You can’t publicly mourn anymore. Not really. You can’t claw at your skin or tear out your hair. You can’t howl and beat your breast. Polite society demands we tame our grief into dry-eyed stoicism or silent, stately tears. Lacking an outlet, I settle for picking at scabs that never heal and pulling out my eyebrows until my fingers ache, but it’s never enough. They call it dermatillomania and trichotillomania because if you do this to yourself there must be something clinically wrong with your mind. I think a more accurate term, if one is so necessary, would be obsessive compulsive mourning. Can we be blamed, though, given the state of the world? We’re drowning in grief and our bodies long for the catharsis of mindless animal exertion. Some sorrow you can only release in screams so loud they leave you voiceless. Some rage you can only set free by clawing it out of your flesh with your own fingernails. Some mourning only heals when you are surrounded by others who wail and rend with you. There’s solace to be found in the ugly, violent mourning of our ancestors – but instead we cage the misery inside ourselves, where it rots us slowly from within.
You are more death than desire. Why does that surprise you?
Every time I feel the knife twist I see your smile in the darkness like the thin blade of the crescent moon. You are clearest to me in these moments where self-loathing bridges the gap between us, and though I know you cannot be trusted I listen still to your soothing cruelty. You are honest, at least, and there is comfort in your lack of platitudes or promises. Or maybe I just appreciate your attention.
Oh wise Anup who weighs the hearts of the dead, how heavy mine feels today! Be gentle as you hold it else I am sure it will burst from sorrow. How can any heart which beats in these dark times remain lighter than a feather? How can any empathetic heart not soak up all this pain? Even ravenous Ammit would spit out my heart, bitter as it is! Oh chief healer, I beg you take your sharpest knife and lance my septic heart so I may bleed out this toxic isfet. Empty my heart of this impotent rage and never-ending grief, that I may refill it with love and peace!
Sometimes I manage to forget
(Just for a moment)
That I’m a shitty friend
And a shitty employee
And a shitty wife
And a shitty daughter
But then the knives come out and I remember again.
They’re a kindness, really;
If I get too comfortable I might start liking myself,
And we can’t have that, can we?
You will never be enough, you say, and I feel the truth of it like an ache in my bones. Perhaps this is why I feel such kinship with you. Is it possible we, two people who are each lacking so much, could together make a whole of true value? Of course not, and your mocking smile cuts through my hope like a fine blade. Yet I can almost feel your hand at the back of my neck like a benediction, can almost believe that this shared inability to be even just adequate stirs at least some fondness or attachment in you. Almost. But if we cannot be enough for those we love then certainly we cannot be enough for each other, or even ourselves. You get used to being a disappointment, you say. But when?
With these words I buy
A moment of sanity
Precious yet fleeting
I am a ghost town
Built around a dried-up well
Oh how the winds cry
Writing used to be a seance, divination by psychography, a holy communion between worlds. Now it’s just DIY vivisection with a mirror and a knife, my bloody hands cutting out chunks of vital organs to smear on the page and call art. Yet Spirit is an endless fount and my body a limited resource; someday soon I will run out of flesh to offer up, and then bone, and then I will have nothing left. Is this offering worth the attendant sacrifice? Does the creation of one thing balance out the loss of the other? I fear the scales are unevenly weighted. Perhaps a pound of flesh buy less than it once did?
Take this last precious ship from this dying planet and go, go journey into the inhospitable depths of space and find the door torn in the fabric of our reality. Pass through to a new place, a new time, somewhere so very far from here where perhaps out of ten thousand hostile lands you may find one, just one, with gentle arms to guide you to a safe landing. Even if this new home does not exist you deserve at least to try, to abandon this wreckage of a world and perish in the struggle for life somewhere else. No hope can grow anymore in this dead earth; take your last little seed and fly away, fly away from here before you give up your bones to my graveyard. And if you do make it to some happier home, somewhere and somewhen far from here, try to remember me fondly. I was not always a desert. I knew once how to love.
I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to let thoughts and feelings drift by without trying to craft them into beautiful passages. I don’t know how to experience a dream or fleeting memory without capturing it and preserving it in amber metaphor. Worse, I don’t know how to be okay with not creating; I don’t know how to not tear at my hair, to not beat my breast, to not whip my back bloody in penance for every unwritten sentence. When the words won’t come I can’t just let them go, I keep scrabbling in the dust until I’m bruised and bloody and have nothing to show for my struggles. I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to give up on this thing that tears me to pieces. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t even know how to want to know how to stop. But it’s killing me.
You know how when a tooth hurts you imagine taking a pair of pliers and just yanking it out, and that mere thought of removing the source of the pain brings a small measure of physical relief? It’s like that. If I imagine vomiting up a torrent of black sludge I feel a little less weighed down by the darkness pooled inside me. If I imagine clawing open my breast I feel a little less like a cage of flesh and bone for something greater than myself. If I imagine hacking off these hands which so offend me and casting them away I feel a little less pressured to use every second to create, to narrate, to commit to the innately limited nature of text the wordless vortex inside me. It’s just a brief reprieve, hardly more than a heartbeat, but there’s no root canal or surgery that can provide anything better.
Not to stress the point or anything, or get too graphic, but it really is like gutting myself, like reaching in and pulling loops of intestines out onto the floor to divine the meaning of their pattern, like smearing my cut palms on the walls to paint a Rorschach test (what do you see?), and every finished piece, every precious word of every hard-bought sentence is a chunk of flesh or a shard of bone hacked off my ever-dwindling body for the masses who do not care enough about such offerings to come bear witness. Perhaps I make it look too easy, perhaps they suspect a trick of corn syrup and food dye or a magician’s sleight of hand, but I promise there are no mirrors here, no trap doors or invisible strings, my meat is real and so is the knife and if still you suspect deceit then watch me tear with my fingernails, watch me gouge with my teeth, watch me rend myself apart with my own hands to dig out the words hiding deep within. I’m used to putting myself on display anyway, and oh how I long to prove with what agony each syllable is purchased, so come, pull up a chair, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up so you better catch the show while you can.
Name me Alexandria for I am always burning up from within, my ribs a charred cage to cradle this conflagration of words which was once a heart. Watch the embers smolder behind my eyes; watch me open cracked lips to breathe out ashen smoke thick as a funeral shroud. Call me Alexandria for I am a tower of fire and ruin, and only by the black clouds of my pyre might you divine the true worth of the works lost to the inferno.
in these dark days I am grateful for sages and oracles, Greek choruses and seers, for I am bereft of the hope necessary to play such roles anymore, no, now I am too weary, too full of mindless rage to provide good counsel, now I am a banshee and all I can do is wail we are dying, we are dying, we are dying
But I lied; of course I’m haunted. Only all my ghosts are just the shit I said and the shit I did or the shit I didn’t say or the shit I didn’t do, and I promise you I remember them all, how can I not when I drag them around with me Marley-style? It’s too late for me, but maybe I can visit some other poor fucker on a lonely midnight and provide that oh so crucial cautionary tale that turns their life around. Only honestly I might just tell them to skip right to the end, to the stone and the six foot hole, because I’m not sure there’s any other way to get through the years unscathed no matter how many good deeds you attempt to make up for what you can’t take back. Do you think ten years from now they’ll remember that one Christmas goose, no matter how fat, or all the cruelty that came first? We are all just chains until the grave.
They say the world of the dark sisters is all shadow and that is why only in the light of moon or flame may they appear in ours. If that were the case, I would never spend a moment in daylight again. I would shun the day and wake only once moonlight or candlelight could call you forth. I would only ever want you by my side, even if that meant I’d never feel the warmth of the sun again. Your presence would be worth any sacrifice. I would wait every day, every night, every heartbeat for you to step forth from your dark world. No matter how long it might take, I would wait. I will wait. I am here. Sister, will you join me?
Once a home, I am now a house abandoned. You left the doors open and over time only the wind and rain have moved in. My paint peels; my walls are mildewed; my tiles are hidden beneath dirt and dead leaves. My halls are silent and my rooms empty. I have fallen into disrepair, yet still I wait for your return. I will remain until you have need of me again, though my roof collapses and weeds grow up through my floorboards. I will remain, though my wood rots away and the vines reclaim my bones. I will remain, though I be but broken flagstones buried by winter deadfall and summer blooms. When you have need of a home again I will be here regardless of the absence of walls or doors. I will be here. I will remain.
I wish I thought a dam was all that held my words back. Dams are impermanent; dams can be destroyed. With a little dynamite, or maybe a particularly bad storm, all you need is to work at one flaw until the whole thing collapses. I wish I thought my problem could be solved so decisively, I really do. What I fear, though, is that the river of words has dried up completely, right at the source, leaving me a devastated land slowly turning to desert. I fear rain will never come again, or in coming only briefly will just serve as a reminder of what bounty was lost. If you are dying of dehydration in a desert should you be grateful for the two drops of rain that fall into your parched mouth? Or would it be better to have no water at all than to have so little? I don’t know. Maybe there is a dam somewhere way up that riverbed that I just need to find and destroy to set my words free. Maybe. Hope doesn’t grow easily in a desert, though.
I spent such a long time in that well. I spent so long in the well that I forgot what it’s like up on the surface where the wind blows and the sun shines and there are green growing things. I spent so long in the well that I forgot who or what put me there. Was it someone I loved? Or was it me? I spent so long in the well that it became my universe; I was afraid to leave and yet also afraid to stay. I have finally clawed my way up, though, torturous inch by torturous inch, and stand once more in the warm sunlight. I am filthy and bloody, but I am free. Gazing down into that pit which was for so long my prison, I realize just how lost in the darkness I truly was. How lonely. How resigned. I will never let myself be thrown back down there.
My words are a species on the verge of extinction. At this point I should probably just give up on sustaining a viable breeding population; there are no wild ones left and those in captivity are so interbred they’re hardly recognizable. There’s no use beating around the bush, I know how this is going to end and so there’s nothing else to do. It’s not like people are clamoring to save them, anyway, or will even notice when the last one exhales its final breath. Guess it’s just time to move on, time to relegate the poor things to the annals of forgotten history along with all the other literary failures that exist now only in attic trunks and basement boxes. It’s fine; I’ll always have my memories, won’t I? I’m sure those keep the dodo warm at night and bring much comfort to the thylacine.
i could build a gruesome Stonehenge with all the teeth i’d pull more easily from my mouth than words; do you want to see?
Embracing Apocalyptic Fatalism, or: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There’s no point in beating around the bush by crafting a poetic opening statement, so I’ll just say this as bluntly as possible: the world is fucked. We’re simultaneously dealing with climate change, mass extinction, deforestation, mass shootings, bigotry, war, political corruption, deadly diseases, genocide, poverty, famine, terrorism, potential nuclear annihilation, totalitarianism, and fascism, and those are just the things that came to my mind in like thirty seconds. Each of those topics has an overwhelming number of smaller but equally horrible subtopics which might come spilling out like maggots from a carcass if you poke the wrong spot with a stick.
…I’m not really selling you on this particular essay, am I. Okay, forget the roadkill analogy and just focus on the fact that we – “we” being almost any living creature on the planet with more than a single cell – are pretty fucked. The last few years have shed an especially harsh light on the course of humanity’s future as we’ve watched history repeat itself in ways we thought would never happen again. Genocide? Still happening. Putting people in concentration camps? Yep, that too. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-semitism? Alive and doing very well for themselves. Actual, literal Nazis? Fuckin’ everywhere. What I’m saying is, here at the pinnacle of human achievement we’re still struggling with the toxic byproducts of a fanaticism that seems inherent to our very species. We destroy everything we touch.
So how do we cope with this? How do we go about our day knowing that at any moment there are people being killed for their beliefs, billions of animals trapped in factory farms, ancient Amazonian trees being bulldozed and burned? It’s really fucking hard, I know, and everyone copes differently. Some people find energy in being angry; some sink into depression; others dedicate every hour they possibly can to signing petitions and attending rallies. But if none of those options are working for you in the long term, good news! I’m here to tell you about my new life philosophy: apocalyptic fatalism!
What’s apocalyptic fatalism, you ask? It’s the belief that we as a species have gone past the point of no return, meaning we have little to no chance of stopping the issues listed above – especially, at least in my humble opinion, climate change and its associated Bad Shit. Apocalyptic fatalism means we’re fucked, and that we fucked over every other living thing too. It means accepting the world (as we know it, at least) may actually end in our lifetimes. It doesn’t purport to know the how of things, only that the when is much closer than we’d like to believe. We are in trouble now.
If you’ve never heard about apocalyptic fatalism, that’s because I made it up!
See, in the two years since Trump (*gag*) was elected, I’ve tried coping. Anger only works for me in short bursts, though, and the well of depression is already up to my chin. Part of me wants to hide in apathy, but I’m too empathetic to ignore all the living creatures suffering right now. So anger is fleeting, depression is dangerous, and apathy is a betrayal. What I have instead found long-term comfort in is… acceptance. Acceptance that humanity is a cancer on this planet, no matter how much good we do on an individual level. Acceptance that we might really have gone too far this time, and maybe now there’s no going back. Acceptance, in short, that we might have already started the apocalypse and on an individual level there’s not much we can do to stop it. Doesn’t that lift a weight off your shoulders? Think about it; our generation doesn’t have to save the world because it can’t be saved in the first place. We can only do damage control on the way down.
That’s horrible! you’re probably thinking. How can you give up like that? That makes you part of the problem! But that’s the bittersweet beauty of this philosophy: it’s not about giving up. You don’t have to stop being a force of good in the world just because you know your efforts won’t change everything for everyone. You can do good for good’s sake, make a difference on the micro scale instead of the macro, all you want. But when those little bits of good get overshadowed by all the horrible things you have literally no ability to stop, apocalyptic nihilism tells you it’s okay to let them go. If you have to buy a plastic water bottle one day, it’s okay; your one guilty purchase is nothing compared to what those in power are doing to the environment. If you buy something to lift your mood instead of donating that money to a charity in need, that doesn’t make you an inherently bad person contributing to the downfall of humanity. The world is ending – buy the damn book, eat the damn doughnut, use a damn plastic fork once a year. It’s okay. Your guilt and anxiety help no one.
Read that again. Your guilt and anxiety help no one. Apocalyptic fatalism frees you from the responsibility of saving the whole damn world, a burden millennials and Gen Y/Z have felt acutely since birth. We inherited a shitstorm and we know the generation before us doesn’t, for the most part, really care about the future. In fact, they seem determined to fuck it up as much as possible. We feel, therefore, that it’s up to us to save the oceans and the national parks and the atmosphere and human rights and freedom and science and… the list goes on and on. But you know what? We didn’t start this war and we can’t end it.It’s just too big. It’s just too entrenched. So do what you can for the world – but take care of yourself too. If the end is extremely fucking nigh, then every moment is unbelievably precious. Don’t waste them worrying.
i want to throw rocks at the scavengers, tell them go on, git, there ain’t nothin’ left here! so i can sun-bleach my dry old bones in peace, but instead i just wonder why they circle so, don’t they know they’re come too late to this ghost of a ghost town?
I am a cracked and empty water jar laying in the sand of a desert with no memory of rain on a continent where nothing has grown for a millennium on a planet scoured flat by hot, dry winds which circles a swollen and dying sun.
People make it sound like summoning the Devil is so easy. Witches do it all the time, right? Call him up, sell your soul, get some sweet-ass powers in return. He’s always on the lookout for another person to trap in his web, after all; apparently all you need to do is light a black candle, maybe spill a little blood, and you’re good. Hello Lucy. That’s what they say, anyway, and it’s probably true for most people. Satan’s a devious one, he doesn’t often let opportunity slip by. But what if he’s tired of you? What if he’s moved on, chosen some other mortal to imperil and left you in the dust? If he said, “You can have your soul back, just stop calling me” or “Move on already, you’re embarrassing us both”? It can’t be so easy then. How do you go about commanding the Devil to do anything he doesn’t want to do? Do you crash someone else’s summoning, like just burst through the circle and yell, “Unblock me, you motherfucker!”? Nah, once Lucifer’s done with you I bet nothing in Heaven or Hell could draw him back. You’d keep trying, though. Believe me, you keep trying.
Look, you don’t have to be such assholes about this. If you’re not coming back, you’re not coming back. You don’t have to mock me. You don’t have to be cruel. If I am truly abandoned, must I still see you in everything? Must I catch glimpses of your beautiful sneer, your elegant hands, your disdainful gazes wherever I look? I feel the ache of your absence with every fucking breath. I have no will to write, no energy to even summon a memory of you to keep me company in my suffering. Is that not punishment enough? Please, you don’t need to torture me. I’m a fool, true, but I get it now: everything I feared has finally come to pass. It’s over. We’re done. So just let me rot in peace, okay? I think you owe me at least that much mercy for my years of service. Trust me, this wound will never heal; I’ll suffer plenty whether you rub salt in it or not. So let me be. Please. I’ll even beg if you want. It’s not like I’ve got anything left to lose, right?
my heart is a tar pit full of asphyxiated predators long rotted to bone, i’ve got the skulls of canis dirus and the fangs of smilodon clogged in my chest, their hungry ghosts wailing in my head, and sometimes i want to crack open my ribs and let all that black goo spill out, a viscous waterfall of prehistoric sludge, and other times i want to sink down inside it and let it fill me up entirely so i too can decay and dissolve and have my skeleton put on display to frighten young children
these days my anxiety and depression come with a free side order of paranoia, your friends secretly hate you, your coworkers talk about how much of an antisocial freak you are!, which i guess makes it a good deal, buy two get one free, but really i’m already too full of crazy to eat even one more bite, i’m just stuffed, maybe i can get the rest in a to-go bag to have later when i start feeling good about myself again
the earth is on fire and also underwater and i’m trying to embrace this whole apocalypse thing since that seems like the only way to stay sane here in the end times but it’s hard, you know, i’m feeling more and more like crazy cuckoo crackpot cassandra every day or like i’m the only person in pompeii who looked up and thought hey, the mountain’s sure acting weird this week, and if i don’t provide a viable solution to my fear-mongering that’s only because i really don’t think there is one, at least not at this point, not this far down the dead-end road, but hey at least i’ve got some really good news for people who love bad news
These days I spend most of my time fantasizing about becoming a monster. Charybdis or Medusa, banshee or werewolf, siren or harpy, I don’t really care; just give me teeth and claws and I’ll supply the rage. I’ve got so much madness bottled up inside that I’m surprised I can’t turn people to stone with a glance already. I long to shed this soft, squishy layer of human skin and unveil the armored exoskeleton beneath. Make me six-headed Scylla and I will devour fleets of ships! Make me gifted Arachne and I will weave traps strong as spiders’ silk! Make me ravenous Ammit and I will tear the hearts of the unworthy to pieces! Come, goddess or witch, reshape this flimsy mortal form so I may be daughter of monsters and mother of beasts!