If Donald Trump Is Elected President, Orpheus Will Make the Flowers Cry
For my birthday I asked one of my exes
To dress like a maenad and jump out
Of a shipwrecked cake. She did.
Then I asked her to punch me in the face.
She did that too. Her hair looked like an oil spill
In the Mediterranean and I tried swimming
In her shampooed crudeness. Before I drowned in her
I asked if she could beat me to death
With my own whiskey dick.
She asked me if anything was wrong.
I said no and asked her to dismember me
Limb by limb. She laughed it off
Until she saw how serious I was.
I told her I’ve always wanted to be killed the same way
As Orpheus was, by sparagmos,
The act of rending, tearing apart or mangling.
According to myths, Orpheus was dismembered
By raging Thracian women who were sick to death
Of his slam poetry, of his mansplaining,
The way he made dry stones hop like bedbugs,
How he catfished a nymph named Eurydice
And almost brought her back from the dead.
Their obsession with each other disrupted
The natural order of things so he had to go.
Why can’t women in the Rust Belt be that furious
At me? So determined to corner me in a forest,
For me to drop to my knees and confess my self-doubts.
No matter how hard I try, I’m never asshole enough.
After my ex left, my stomach bottomed out in loneliness
So I listened to the only voicemail saved on my phone,
A credit card representative letting me know
I’ve missed some payments. It was nice hearing his voice.
Most days a credit card representative is the only person
That calls me. Mismanaging my life is a reminder
That I’m still alive and I can’t give that up.
I can’t give up my debt. I can’t give up that outsourced voice
Living in my iPhone. I like being reminded
How much I fuck up. It’s an adrenaline rush
And as I get older, I’m more comfortable
Being a masochist. Pain doesn’t wait
Until everything’s just right.
It doesn’t wait for you build up the courage
To talk to the girl or boy you really like.
It doesn’t wait for you to find the courage
To quit your unfulfilling job. It doesn’t wait
For you to get the courage to talk to the stranger
In the mirror. It acts quickly and instinctively
Like the beasts we’re supposed to be. I collapsed
Into sleep wishing there were someone in my bed
Bold enough to put my apnea in its place, strong enough
To carry my lucidness to a better dream somewhere far away.
The next day I’m still going strong, getting drunk
On meteorites at this hipster bar and watching CNN
On the TV and suddenly Donald Trump arrives in Cleveland
Via helicopter and there’s this huge crowd
Of patriotic morticians waiting for him.
Together they pretty up the cold corpse
Of Lady Liberty like it’s her wedding day.
Everyone’s so horny for things to fall apart.
Maybe they’re onto something.
Most important thing in life
Is learning how to fall.
It’s how you build trust, by having trysts
With the air and hoping it keeps your secrets
Safe from the ground, away from the prying eyes
Of gravity. Everyone in America is burning concussions
Into their hearts so they forget how to feel
So they can ignore the consequences
Of ignoring reality. Instead of ripping themselves apart
They’re destroying the lives of all the people around them.
A sad state of affairs so I have three shots of whiskey:
One for my lack of confidence, one for my fear of failure
And one for my inability to open up emotionally.
When I go outside, the sun is barely shining
Through the thick, dark clouds
And I think that if I softly sing to it
It will hop like a bedbug into a different solar system,
One that’s full of flowers always in rabid bloom.
Umbilical Cords Sinking to the Bottom of a Blue-Collar River
There’s this photo of me as a newborn
Riding atop the skeleton of a car
Coming off the assembly line.
It looks like I’m trying to break away
From the long umbilical cord
Connecting me to the placenta
Of the GM Tonawanda Engine Plant
Where my dad worked for forty years
Before he slipped on ice in the parking lot
And broke nearly every bone in his body.
That’s not the life I want to live.
It feels like I’m an engine
Separated from my car,
Having so much energy
With nowhere to put it
So I’m always traveling down
A rusted conveyor belt
Through the heart of the city
Trying to let go of the burdens
That hold me back: student debt, hookups,
Climate change, caring for aging parents.
A bottle of Kentucky bourbon
In under ten minutes and I’m ready to fly.
The things that I see: shipwrecks of love
Collecting honey dust at the bottom
Of bongwater lakes. Thousands
Of scattered stars looking like headless
Chicken corpses floating in hot tubs
Filled with cowardice. Blue-collar
Addicts building a Babel out of
Streetcar scratch offs and pocket dictionaries
Because it takes a little bit of luck
To see the face of God
But when they do, they’re gonna roll
Around in the Jehovian mud
Choking on the words
They were never born to say.
The bars in this town
Are filled with nondescript chatter
As if everybody’s tongues
Are wi-fi connections
With constant buffering issues.
You’ll never know your fellow man
Inside and out and that mortifies me.
Fate always finds a way to betray you.
I have a masochistic photographic memory
And I can remember every night
That a lover cheated on me.
A couple standouts: there was this one night
That Nicole cheated on me
With a UB music professor.
He wasn’t even all that talented,
A Portlandian worshipper of John Cage.
If only he modeled all his songs
After Cage’s 4’33”, he would’ve done
The world a favor. Sometimes silence
Is healthier for the ears when the passion
In your head is misguided, sounding more like
Two crackheads arguing over the last hit.
I wanted to beat the shit out of him,
Something my dad would’ve done,
But when I confronted the music professor
Like Achilles drunk on whiskey, the rage
Turning my eyes into empty cue balls,
He was cowering in the corner of the bar
Like a cat when the vacuum cleaner
Is turned on. I didn’t have it in me,
Not that time, at least. I let him off easy.
I’ve always failed at maintaining the legacy
Of my dad as an alcoholic rage-filled
Factory worker, who would kill the world
Before it had the chance to explain itself.
I don’t know… maybe I’m not headstrong enough.
Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many talks
With my mom, her breaking down
Over my drinking and telling me
I’m acting too much like him.
Back when they were young
And I guess in love, he would fight
Any guy that would look at her.
He beat up this one guy so bad
The guy lost most of his teeth
And after that my mom never let anyone
Look at her again. Now she’s a cat lady
Who plays solitaire with tarot cards every night
Because I guess the future is something
That only you decide and if you feel
Like you’re not where you’re supposed to be
Then you and you alone have fucked up
Because the future isn’t a team sport.
My mom has one thing right though:
I am an alcoholic, but the chip on my shoulder
Isn’t big enough to weigh me down in rage.
I can’t go around beating up everyone.
There was this one night that Carly cheated on me
With a lawyer who moonlights as a bad community
Theater actor. That’s not his appeal, of course,
But the blow he always has on him is
And when Carly looks at a mirror
It’s always a funhouse mirror
Because her reflection is never just one reflection
But a bunch of them and that’s the thing that weighs her down
And I guess it’s easier to look at yourself in the mirror
When it’s covered in coke. The night she was trying
Not to find her reflection, I hadn’t heard from her
So I was up all night because we had just moved in together.
It was snowing and I was drunk on whiskey
And I was chain smoking outside and when the sun
Started to shine the snow in the backyard
Was littered with butts and it looked like a Normandy
Of betrayal. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t.
I knew what was going on. She didn’t make it
Into work that day and neither did I.
I stayed at my dad’s and jerked off to the eighty-seven voicemails
She left on my phone apologizing until
She was blue in the face. I haven’t yet decided
If I want to beat the lawyer up or not. Maybe a month from now
He’ll be at the dentist getting new teeth
And my dad will be patting me on the back
Saying he’s proud of me that I defended my pride.
I don’t know… I’ve always been a failure
At living up to my blue-collar heritage
And on most nights I can hear the siren’s call
Of the conveyor belt luring me to an early death,
Promising me there’s a car where I can put my engine,
A car that will take care of me and take me on a drive
Through hell and even if I’m dead beneath my family tree
At least I can still say I have my pride. I don’t know…
On those nights I put on my dad’s old GM overalls
And walk the streets of Buffalo collecting umbilical cords
That have been tossed aside, the heredities that people throw away
Because they dream of better lives, a little slice of heaven
Where the demons don’t buy you drinks, where they don’t
Whisper in your ear that everybody you love will betray you,
That this is the natural order of things and it’s gonna be okay,
Just be prepared and take action when it happens
And when the world smiles at you, that obnoxiously perfect smile,
Just know that you can make it toothless if you choose to
And that gives you power, it’s just that the people around you
Are always playing with fire, unaware that it takes all your strength
To hold back and not make things right on those nights
I hop on the conveyor belt carrying bags full of umbilical cords
And am carried to the river where I dump these blue-collar heredities.
I watch them struggle a bit trying to gasp for the future
Before they sink to the bottom on those nights
I chain-smoke and stare at the moon pissing on the husks
Of abandoned factories and I can hear the hum and rush
Of cars on the thruway and I do my very best
To build up my optimism again that each of us can escape the past,
That not everybody is an asshole, that not everybody is weak.
I wish I would get more pleasure from being the bigger person.
When the Icebergs Die out, I’ll Still Be Dreaming of Frostbite
I hear two icebergs arguing
In the apartment above me.
They’re the last of their kind,
Descendants of the last glaciation.
They fell in love around twenty thousand years ago
Off the coast of Greenland.
I thought they were the perfect couple
Like they were totally made for each other.
Nothing in today’s world can handle their coldness.
They come from a different time
When coldness was used as armor for protection
Against a sun that didn’t give a shit anymore,
A sun that left the scene like an absent father,
A dead star that went out for smokes and never came back,
Leaving behind a trail of carcinogen supernovas in the sky,
Reminding every living creature on earth
That at the core of our being is a bright, explosive cancer
That will only ever feel at home in the arms
Of another bright, explosive cancer. So, yeah,
I understand why everything had to freeze over.
Something drastic had to be done if we wanted to preserve
The best parts of ourselves. Glaciation
Is necessary for survival, especially when the darkness comes
And doesn’t leave. However, the magnetism
Of our worst parts was too strong and that chemo sun
Rolled back into town on the back of radioactivity
And the climate started to change and the icicles in our eyes
Started to melt until we couldn’t look past our sadness
And we started to live life like blurs jumping from fight
To fight, from bed to bed, building an ecosystem of sweat
For us to slip on and break apart. Passion is a good thing
But why bother when you can’t preserve it? The argument
Is getting louder and I think the icebergs are throwing things
At each other. I’m getting all shaky on the inside
And pour myself another whiskey. Alcoholism
Isn’t a cure for this, but it’s all I got. I go on my laptop
To get my mind off of things, but when I go to Google News
I see a bunch of articles about how humans have destroyed
One-tenth of Earth’s wilderness in the last twenty years, an area
More than twice the size of Alaska. Well, shit. Not enough
Has been done to protect the most beautiful places
In the world. The wilderness, where the best parts
Of ourselves can live their dreams, is dying out.
The icebergs are gonna kill each other
And no one’s doing anything about it. In fact
I’m cowering next to a whiskey bottle
And wondering why my girlfriend isn’t texting me back.
I know what’s going on. All I’ve ever needed
Was to fall in love with someone who will surrender
To the elements, that wintry periodic table
Spelling out our doom in hypothermic chemistry.
It’s a language no one bothers to learn anymore.
I can’t handle all the fighting anymore
So I leave the apartment and go to the nearest tree.
I punch it over and over again until I’m bleeding
And broken and the red scuffs on my knuckles
Look like tiny hearts. The icebergs are leaving me behind.
I’m just like everyone else.
Justin Karcher is the author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell from Ghost City Press. Recent works have been published in 3:AM Magazine, Plenitude Magazine, Foundlings, The Black Napkin, 63Channels and more. He is the editor-in-chief of Ghost City Review. He is the winner of the 2015 Just Buffalo Literary Center members’ writing competition. He tweets @Justin_Karcher.
Image credit: swifthandsam