The Hughes

Do men dream in the same way that women do?

Do they cradle a dream to their chest, minding its head as if it’s fragile neck would snap?

Do black men dream big?

Do brown?

Men hold fast to so many things,

But dreams?

Or at least I can’t imagine many of them knowing what it feels like to have a dream

Hold you back

To say,

I will never leave you

No matter how hard the future gets

That we will make it through and survive this thing called life,

Together.

So, deferred, what is it that becomes of them? They build or preach or teach. Men may accept a lesser reality, a shallow dream that isn’t sweet enough to satisfy anyone. A sliver at a time they accept the life they have come to live, and, every once in awhile, learn to silence the hope that builds up in their chest

-excerpt poem from my book in progress called  ‘A Man Deferred’. Let us know what you think!

Conversations

It was one of those mornings. You know the kind, where you wake still tired because you were crying and the cat tried to suffocate you in the night

your shirt ripped

tripped over your shoes

your knees sing the blues running for the bus

forgot to eat breakfast

so far nothing can go right, kind of mornings

I’m on my daily commute…upset, marveling at the homeless war vet stretched across four seats when this guy floats next to me. Feeling nothing but energy, I peer left and right, wondering what’s calling me out of the morning funk. It whispers a small command to smile

which I ignore.

Then my shoulder feels a gaze that’s uncharacteristically heavy. There he is scrounged in the corner, waiting for me to break the levy.

‘Hi’ spills out awkwardly to which he replied with a giant grin, eyes lighting up like Christmas

‘I was sending out the vibes, praying you weren’t hiding today’

as the thought of stalker creeps around the back of my brain, he had a   sip my my herbal tea in a dashiki when no one’s looking ambiance

hopscotch back to the gurgling in my stomach

he flips his dreads every couple of minutes so they cascade away from his face

In haste, he says ‘I’m getting off soon’.

I’m not.

He’ll be on in the afternoon.

I wont.

‘What do you do?’

I work on a corporate plantation. He laughed, heartily, enjoying the satire

saying that’s why he’s a kindergarten teacher

diving head first into political views and inside jokes like we were best friends and I had known him for years

He missed three whole stops that day just for a conversation…

 

 

 

Talking To Yourself Much

The city at least had sunrises that meant something to me. Here I have to wake up by five a.m. when it’s still dark out to be at the bus stop since the school is a trek through what seems to be God’s country. I saw a baby black bear destroying a garbage can yesterday.

I miss the sun painting its blades into the backs of building tops. Everything is so tranquil and annoying here. Jaz jabs me in the side to get my attention but I pretend to ignore her listening instead to the sharp crunches of the potato chips some fat kid must be snacking on in the back of the bus. I shouldn’t be able to do this. I thought I was hallucinating at first. Hoping I had a brain aneurysm, since dying at any moment made me feel free to be a freak or a hero or gay even.

You’re losing it kid. You’re not a hero. You’re not any of that.

The bus juggles us around like bowling pins, up and down. If we were freshman we’d still be in the front seats securely over the adjusted front wheels with shocks that don’t make you want to vomit in your mouth. But, we’re just old enough to be closer to the back. I have to hear the stomach contents of the seniors and juniors roll over and digest. Just another reason mornings here suck.There’s no jarring vibrations of roaring subway stations, or cackling women yelling from fire escapes. Nothing out here sounds interesting at all. The students, too glazed over from pop tarts, sit stone quiet on the bus staring at the forest rushing by. No words, no music, no talking, just unbearable gurgling. When I figure this all out maybe I’ll learn to concentrate my power and amplify it to burst someone’s eardrum for some much needed excitement around here.

“Hey, we’re going to be late,” said Jaz coolly walking past after we filed off the bus.

Tannersville High was one dimensional, huge, white, poorly  decorated with dim lighting and the kind of floors that were probably bled on at some point. Exactly how I felt most days.

What’s my name? You won’t name me will you? I heard the sound of Trisha crumpling a wrapper, Mrs. Brune’s heartbeat, and Jaz’s thoughts as she saunters to her locker. She’s wrestling with puberty and that new found crush on you.

Stop talking to me. Why? The entire day droned on in the background of her voice in my head.

“Can you hear me? ” said Jaz crossing her eyes and jostling her purple hair into my face.

See now your not even paying attention to her.

“Shut up, you’re always talking,” I blurted out accidentally.

She turned away, banging ungracefully into the the side of her seat.

Eons passed.

“Look, I’m sorry for…” I said, slowly.

“For the bus. And the hallway. And the cafe this morning. And your freak out last week–“

“Alright. I said I was sorry.”

“Come on Etan, what’s eating you?” she said, giggling at her own pun. Damn it if I could love her any less.

“Okay,” I said taking a deep breath, “I think I’m having an identity crisis because the voice in my head is this crazy girl and she has like supersonic hearing into other people’s heads. And she thinks you have a crush on me and I kind of like you.”

“Soo, you like me?” Jaz asked, wrinkling her nose into a smile.

Really, that’s all she heard. You sure about this one, I mean there are plenty of cute–

“She got a name?” she said, clearly amused.

“Maybe. This is serious.”

“Mhm.”

“Jaz.”

“Is this how you always ask girls out, by being weird?” she asked, getting up to leave, “Because I like it.”

 

 

 

 

The Looking Glass

NEW YEAR’S EVE. Nellie, the daughter of a landowner and general, a young and pretty girl, dreaming day and night of being married, was sitting in her room, gazing with exhausted, half-closed eyes into the looking-glass. She was pale, tense, and as motionless as the looking-glass.

The non-existent but apparent vista of a long, narrow corridor with endless rows of candles, the reflection of her face, her hands, of the frame — all this was already clouded in mist and merged into a boundless grey sea. The sea was undulating, gleaming and now and then flaring crimson. . . .

Looking at Nellie’s motionless eyes and parted lips, one could hardly say whether she was asleep or awake, but nevertheless she was seeing. At first she saw only the smile and soft, charming expression of someone’s eyes, then against the shifting grey background there gradually appeared the outlines of a head, a face, eyebrows, beard. It was he, the destined one, the object of long dreams and hopes. The destined one was for Nellie everything, the significance of life, personal happiness, career, fate. Outside him, as on the grey background of the looking-glass, all was dark, empty, meaningless. And so it was not strange that, seeing before her a handsome, gently smiling face, she was conscious of bliss, of an unutterably sweet dream that could not be expressed in speech or on paper. Then she heard his voice, saw herself living under the same roof with him, her life merged into his. Months and years flew by against the grey background. And Nellie saw her future distinctly in all its details.

Picture followed picture against the grey background. Now Nellie saw herself one winter night knocking at the door of Stepan Lukitch, the district doctor. The old dog hoarsely and lazily barked behind the gate. The doctor’s windows were in darkness. All was silence.

“For God’s sake, for God’s sake!” whispered Nellie.

But at last the garden gate creaked and Nellie saw the doctor’s cook.

“Is the doctor at home?”

“His honour’s asleep,” whispered the cook into her sleeve, as though afraid of waking her master.

“He’s only just got home from his fever patients, and gave orders he was not to be waked.”

But Nellie scarcely heard the cook. Thrusting her aside, she rushed headlong into the doctor’s house. Running through some dark and stuffy rooms, upsetting two or three chairs, she at last reached the doctor’s bedroom. Stepan Lukitch was lying on his bed, dressed, but without his coat, and with pouting lips was breathing into his open hand. A little night-light glimmered faintly beside him. Without uttering a word Nellie sat down and began to cry. She wept bitterly, shaking all over.

“My husband is ill!” she sobbed out. Stepan Lukitch was silent. He slowly sat up, propped his head on his hand, and looked at his visitor with fixed, sleepy eyes. “My husband is ill!” Nellie continued, restraining her sobs. “For mercy’s sake come quickly. Make haste. . . . Make haste!”

“Eh?” growled the doctor, blowing into his hand.

“Come! Come this very minute! Or . . . it’s terrible to think! For mercy’s sake!”

And pale, exhausted Nellie, gasping and swallowing her tears, began describing to the doctor her husband’s illness, her unutterable terror. Her sufferings would have touched the heart of a stone, but the doctor looked at her, blew into his open hand, and — not a movement.

“I’ll come to-morrow!” he muttered.

“That’s impossible!” cried Nellie. “I know my husband has typhus! At once . . . this very minute you are needed!”

“I . . . er . . . have only just come in,” muttered the doctor. “For the last three days I’ve been away, seeing typhus patients, and I’m exhausted and ill myself. . . . I simply can’t! Absolutely! I’ve caught it myself! There!”

And the doctor thrust before her eyes a clinical thermometer.

“My temperature is nearly forty. . . . I absolutely can’t. I can scarcely sit up. Excuse me. I’ll lie down. . . .”

The doctor lay down.

“But I implore you, doctor,” Nellie moaned in despair. “I beseech you! Help me, for mercy’s sake! Make a great effort and come! I will repay you, doctor!”

“Oh, dear! . . . Why, I have told you already. Ah!”

Nellie leapt up and walked nervously up and down the bedroom. She longed to explain to the doctor, to bring him to reason. . . . She thought if only he knew how dear her husband was to her and how unhappy she was, he would forget his exhaustion and his illness. But how could she be eloquent enough?

“Go to the Zemstvo doctor,” she heard Stepan Lukitch’s voice.

“That’s impossible! He lives more than twenty miles from here, and time is precious. And the horses can’t stand it. It is thirty miles from us to you, and as much from here to the Zemstvo doctor. No, it’s impossible! Come along, Stepan Lukitch. I ask of you an heroic deed. Come, perform that heroic deed! Have pity on us!”

“It’s beyond everything. . . . I’m in a fever. . . my head’s in a whirl . . . and she won’t understand! Leave me alone!”

“But you are in duty bound to come! You cannot refuse to come! It’s egoism! A man is bound to sacrifice his life for his neighbour, and you. . . you refuse to come! I will summon you before the Court.”

Nellie felt that she was uttering a false and undeserved insult, but for her husband’s sake she was capable of forgetting logic, tact, sympathy for others. . . . In reply to her threats, the doctor greedily gulped a glass of cold water. Nellie fell to entreating and imploring like the very lowest beggar. . . . At last the doctor gave way. He slowly got up, puffing and panting, looking for his coat.

“Here it is!” cried Nellie, helping him. “Let me put it on to you. Come along! I will repay you. . . . All my life I shall be grateful to you. . . .”

But what agony! After putting on his coat the doctor lay down again. Nellie got him up and dragged him to the hall. Then there was an agonizing to-do over his goloshes, his overcoat. . . . His cap was lost. . . . But at last Nellie was in the carriage with the doctor. Now they had only to drive thirty miles and her husband would have a doctor’s help. The earth was wrapped in darkness. One could not see one’s hand before one’s face. . . . A cold winter wind was blowing. There were frozen lumps under their wheels. The coachman was continually stopping and wondering which road to take.

Nellie and the doctor sat silent all the way. It was fearfully jolting, but they felt neither the cold nor the jolts.

“Get on, get on!” Nellie implored the driver.

At five in the morning the exhausted horses drove into the yard. Nellie saw the familiar gates, the well with the crane, the long row of stables and barns. At last she was at home.

“Wait a moment, I will be back directly,” she said to Stepan Lukitch, making him sit down on the sofa in the dining-room. “Sit still and wait a little, and I’ll see how he is going on.”

On her return from her husband, Nellie found the doctor lying down. He was lying on the sofa and muttering.

“Doctor, please! . . . doctor!”

“Eh? Ask Domna!” muttered Stepan Lukitch.

“What?”

“They said at the meeting . . . Vlassov said . . . Who? . . . what?”

And to her horror Nellie saw that the doctor was as delirious as her husband. What was to be done?

“I must go for the Zemstvo doctor,” she decided.

Then again there followed darkness, a cutting cold wind, lumps of frozen earth. She was suffering in body and in soul, and delusive nature has no arts, no deceptions to compensate these sufferings. . . .

Then she saw against the grey background how her husband every spring was in straits for money to pay the interest for the mortgage to the bank. He could not sleep, she could not sleep, and both racked their brains till their heads ached, thinking how to avoid being visited by the clerk of the Court.

She saw her children: the everlasting apprehension of colds, scarlet fever, diphtheria, bad marks at school, separation. Out of a brood of five or six one was sure to die.

The grey background was not untouched by death. That might well be. A husband and wife cannot die simultaneously. Whatever happened one must bury the other. And Nellie saw her husband dying. This terrible event presented itself to her in every detail. She saw the coffin, the candles, the deacon, and even the footmarks in the hall made by the undertaker.

“Why is it, what is it for?” she asked, looking blankly at her husband’s face.

And all the previous life with her husband seemed to her a stupid prelude to this.

Something fell from Nellie’s hand and knocked on the floor. She started, jumped up, and opened her eyes wide. One looking-glass she saw lying at her feet. The other was standing as before on the table.

She looked into the looking-glass and saw a pale, tear-stained face. There was no grey background now.

“I must have fallen asleep,” she thought with a sigh of relief.

 

–By Anton Chekhov

Her Cherry Tree

The tattoo’s eyes bore past me.

Frantically, I banged on the door. When she opened the door again her face had recognizably paled.

“Kyra?” I asked.

“Come,” she said, coldly.

The branches on her neck emanated, as I watched her turn to climb the stairs. She disappeared into the shadow at the top of the stairwell before I decided to step across the threshold.

Her house was hollow, with all the windows closed and the shades drawn. A thin film of dust covered the furniture. As I bent down to survey everything a little closer, the door slammed itself shut.

Or at least I thought it did. There, standing just off to the right was what was left of Mrs. Williams’ body, peering at me. My heart began to race. I slowly crept towards the stairs, hoping not to attract its attention. Mrs. Williams’ shoulders hunched forward like an animal alert of its prey. In between her heaving pants, she crouched, lowering her face to the floor.

I waited. She was a statue, a gargoyle awaiting instructions.

Once I was sure she wouldn’t lunge at me I went to find Kyra. Down the corridor I could see her sitting on the edge of her bed, the door ajar. She was still as I came closer.

“Kyra?” I said.

“You can see us?” she said, her voice a harsh whisper. The cherry tree ink on her neck rippled, glowing a low purple. “How…” The sound this time was husky and sweet, a deeper decimal just below hers speaking along with her.

“I can help you, but you have to leave Kyra and her family alone!” I yelled, not meaning to appear so desperate before the spirit. “Where’s your people?” I said.

She pushed a curl behind her ear trying to wipe the water from Kyra’s eyes.

“Gone,” was her only reply.

She bunched up her skirt into clenched fists, tears falling into her lap. I looked up in time to catch a gathering of shadows down the hall around Mrs.Williams’ body. Apparently, the emotional state of the spirit had awoken its watch dog. The darkness scattered up the walls, frittering like insects, as the body moved towards us. Her leaden footsteps dropped onto the floorboards. I jumped to the other side of the room to throw open the window for a quick escape.

Mrs. Williams reached the sunlight, and somehow she smiled at me as sweetly as the first day we met in church. A little surprised I was in her daughter’s room, she crossed over the carpeting feebly when only moments ago she was sprinting.

Kyra perked up, transforming as if nothing was amiss. After she ushered her mom out, she happily bounced towards me with a mischievous smile on her round face.

The shades snapped shut, and instantly her expression hardened. Fog rose around us as she tiptoed to reach my face. She touched her forehead to my third eye, her warmth spreading as the fog filled the room.

 

 

The Lion And The Cat

The lion, prideful but without a pride, roamed in search of a cave to hide. Hunters were coming to lay him down, hunters were coming with crazy sound. They smashed the branches and snapped twigs; rolled over homes under the plain, and knocked nature about. The lion was lucky in his cool brown and padded claws. He slipped through the trees undetected, hatred reflected in his eyes for all his murdered and kidnapped felines. Into himself he retreated, sprawling out on the dirt, alone, he felt good for a moment. It had been so long that there in the cave, he thought he had dreamed it.

When a perky little cat, Roberta, Bob for short, came trotting by. She heard the loud sigh of an angry lion inside. “Go away small one why have you come,” he roared “can’t you see that with all of you I am done!” She perked up her whiskers and sat lightly on her tail staring up into the jaws of hell. “Out I said, or I’ll surely kill you dead.”

Un-phased, she laid in the shade of a tree trunk across the way and went to sleep. There she stayed. Every day. Listening to the lion storm, bringing warm mice for him to nibble on, leading the monkeys away whenever they tried to bother, singing sweet meows whenever he started to holler.

Until finally one day long after, he cried to the cat “Why? Surely you know the real world is not this kind.”

“We are the same,” she said.

“I am a lion,”  he growled.

“You are a cat albeit a very big one. I am black and spotted, you are tan. You are alone and in pain. I remember once when I was in needing, someone came with love, feeding me bits of kindness. We may not look it, but we are the same. And if we don’t take care of each other who will,…” she began to trail off, and slowly got up to walk away “…the hunter?”

Into the brush she went without a word more.

The lion, so used to her love and affection, followed behind; and thought, in time, I will learn how to be the same.

Cancer

I sit on the steps of God’s house, contemplating the depression eating away at me like the stage 4 cancer failing both of my kidneys. Family’s hugs and weary eyes remind me of my enclosing demise. Can they see me?

I hide melting into the blackness. Alone, understanding and accepting what the future holds. Their stress hurts to watch; though, a confession lightens the soul it burdens the listener. They could not bear to know that their loving gaze makes me feel sicker. I’m beginning  to hunger for an escape into the clouds. My sweet chariot to swing low and ascend. Feel the warm kiss of death while she entangles my body and we drift into that ever lasting sleep.

I breathe deep and hold it in as if I’m drowning. Trying to feel the breathlessness of my lungs collapsing when I am no longer moving. I suppose on a grand scale death’s always pending . So it’s not fear that fuels this sense of certainty but knowing that they will miss me. Sitting here. Visualizing my daughter’s pain as her teardrops stain the hollowed shell of my remains. What comfort could my spirit gain knowing that I’m the reason she cries rain every night?

He pushed his hand into night’s pocket, seizing his food of desperation and munched it, the nutrients nestling in the thicket of his bowels; imagining death as his distant lover. He shunned all those who searched for him and moved further into the corner, cold floor, and hard wall his brothers whispering in his ear. Will you go now, right now, gently into her beckoning arms?

His answer may have been yes had it not been for the bucketful of gold rising in the sky, spilling yellow rays onto his cheeks that danced into his eyes. He could see his selfish ways. The courage to live kicked up in his throat as if singing from a serpent’s tongue. It whipped and split the remaining dark. Movitated him to seek out his seekers. Hang onto their hugs. Dry those weary eyes since a minute of their happiness was worth more than a moment of his despair.

With the sun warm on my face I sink deeper into their embrace. I don’t tell them about my relationship with death. She will come knocking on my door, waiting for me to satisfy her; but today, I will not answer. 

The Waiting

I wonder where he is? he asked. His thoughts were so far away from the ledge in front of him. I want him to love me but, he paused mid thought as a rock crumbled beneath the weight of his foot. Searching the sky for signs of the moon, he eased back from the ledge a little. Maybe he’s looking at the same moon. Same clouds.

His heart sunk as a small malicious voice from the back of his neck, in sharp whispers said, you don’t know that’s true. No, he said. Yes, it says, he has no need for love sick fags derailing his focus. He’s all objective and goal and you’re in the way. He doesn’t even return your phone calls. But he’s my best friend. Men don’t have best friends, that’s what brothers are for. Shut up. I love him. You think the world will let you two idiots be together. He sniffed, stifling a cry. Slowly he pulled out his phone to call him, and when he didn’t answer, sent a text that read: Pls can i stay by u. He waited. Shushing his inner demons. Clinging, terrified to feel alone facing this ledge.

The waiting. crushing. every second that passed with no reply. He crawled into a ball refusing to cry because the darkness didn’t deserve his screams.

He waited.

A Hero

A hero’s armor is supposed to shine.

Yeah, only the ones who have never dared to save anyone.

Mine is dented, bruised, a quiet dullness beginning to take over. Maybe once, when I was in my prime, I had that rare super hero form. I would ride through the ashes of some recent mayhem; feel the soot stain my face, the debris sting my eyes, and ride faster, growing more determined with each stride of the stallion beneath me. Draw the sword. Smite those belligerent beasts with precision. I was an amazing acrobat and archer. I can hardly recount the times I out ran a dragon’s breath without even breaking a sweat.

Fire, it seems, has lost its luster and I care not for being burned. History books won’t write what heroes lose. Time has whittled my kindness down to a mere dollop wallowing in the cold shadow of paranoia. The thrill of racing into the blaze, sword drawn, for my beloved’s rescue. Now, I can barely lift a pen to parchment to document my brave feats. Try as I might, this word is a hot coal that singed my skin with a fiery love that burns like a thousand blood thirsty torches. I resort to chipping icicles just to numb the pain of not living up to that title.

I haven’t loved anything as much as they loved me.

To think, I have fought the monsters that slip into children’s rooms at night against their will. Pulled away from men’s pleasures. Never once faltering into villainy. Saved men from themselves when their vices began to take hold. I’ve even freed a distressed damsel when others were too cowardly to acknowledge her screams. Strength, pride, beauty, moral fortitude. Those were my claim to fame, but really, it was indifference that allowed me to do those things. I didn’t run into the fire recover the person on the other side. I just could no longer feel the flames scalding my flesh.

Not for honor or justice or nobility. I used to wait, in heat, for life’s cruel, sadistic murmur to throw me another conflict to prevail. Another foe to foil. Yet, I have grown weary opting instead for a nice, silent retreat. Friends and family search for my helping hands through the smoldering wreckage, incessantly calling me to do their bidding; but, I have hung my cloak and put down my sword.

A hero no more.

I will reclaim my time. Maybe rekindle my passion and write until the frost surrounding my heart is shaken off by the feverish beating of content.

Plaster, Wood, Bricks

Plaster, wood, and bricks.

If I could speak. The things I’d say.

I’d let it all hang out in ways that she’d hate.

My body, poked and prodded with posters and pictures. I see her in a scarlet depression, smoldering. Curled into herself as she constantly slams my doors and cuts the lights. Thank God the eggshell paint absorbs some of the tension. I swear the heavy, sickening thickness in her bated breaths makes me tremble. Is it pain there behind her eyes as she sleeps, tossing in between bed squeaks? It can’t be just that.

This morning she rose gravely, perpendicular to the mattress like a fresh zombie from a grave. Something happened out of the ordinary. Before the un-swaddling of the covers, mussing of the flattened curls, smacking of sleep intoxicated lips and eye lids. There was a smile there amid the sunken sadness. A smile. Then she looked up. Before the morning music or shower, she looked up, past me, as if to thank someone. Brief and silently lingering was that look. Then the balls of her feet gripped the linoleum and she was off.

Sometimes I want to beg her to stay here in the dimness with the five of us. It’s safe, safer than where she disappears to anyways. Her scent is all over the place, and we’ve known so many over the years, but I think we like her. Another smile, and then another, in the mornings, sometimes in the day, and even in the night. Something’s changed. It must have.

Look.

Rarely any shallow sobbing into the silken pillow. Surreptitiously, we surrender our services to her. Soak in her off-collar looks, call in the breeze at night, and gently whisper in her ear as she drifts from the conscious world into the next.