Category: mo mhuirnín

That it was always-already-doomed I knew going in – but what I couldn’t know then is that thirteen years later, I’d not only still be tied up in some kind of complicated knots about it somewhere in that mess of my head, but in addition I’d also be cast into the role of friend, confidant, cheerleader, and comforter of the spouse I had a hand in deceiving. Thing is, I was under the impression that no deception was happening. Turns out I’m not the judge of character I thought I was. We were both being lied to, come to find out, but where she was being kept in the dark, I was actually being manipulated and emotionally tortured in a particularly sadistic way.  Just when it had all finally started to fade to the point where it was finally becoming memory instead of flashback, the bastard shows up at my doorstep, ten years to the month since I last saw him, and my stupid ass lets him — and all the bad dreams — right back in. Only now I suddenly have to be her friend, too, and make her feel better about her anxiety and insecurity, and send dozens of emails telling her how wonderful she is and how sorry I am for making her feel uncomfortable and that I knew he never felt about me the way I felt about him, just rehearsing all the acid in the wounds, again and again and again, and my God, haven’t I paid for it enough yet? My two pathetic, stolen weeks of pretending I wasn’t fundamentally mis-assembled, that I hadn’t dealt out so much damage before that I would never, ever really have another chance again?  Three more years, and that I’m the shoulder to cry on now that the marriage has finally gone to hell in a handbasket is really, in retrospect, just more of the same incredibly complex misery that is my poetic justice for getting involved at all.  That’s what I get for grabbing at ten minutes of temporary bittersweet self-delusion. I have paid, and paid, and paid, and paid again, a thousandfold, for every single time in my life I have ever made that mistake.  It’s all starting to bleed together, to turn into the same mistake, I think, except this one is actually different, because I don’t think anybody has ever been so deliberately and simply cruel – before, or since.

There are not even any more amends to make, I’d think, but I’m still fucking paying. I really do believe I will pay for the rest of my life, one way or another, and my God how could I possibly have known what I was bringing on myself? How could I possibly have known?  I resented you before, for over ten years I resented you. But now I hate you – for this, this sad little exchange, the tumbling down of a flimsy card-house that lasted so long because we both needed you to be as damaged as you are and as honest as we blindly (desperately, stupidly) hoped, this cruel and twisted drama that you’ve engineered and then, incredibly, escaped, right before it all came down in twisted metal, torn skyscrapers, sickening collage of flesh and steel and these are human beings bleeding in the middle of this, you bastard, and some of them are your children. I cannot believe otherwise than that this is some point of detestable pride, of secret sick pleasure for you, the strings you’ve pulled and the tunes we’ve danced to, the wreckage you’ve made of her life and the neat trick of putting the broom and dustbin in my hand. I have often said that I’ll take my ten minutes of happiness where I can get it, and that I went in with open eyes and willing to pay the price, and that ultimately it was worth it and I have no regrets. I never say that I’d have done it differently, given the chance. Congratulations on changing that about me, too, because I wish I had never laid eyes on you.

Maybe this is exactly what I needed in order to wake me up, finally, to the fact that I keep getting into these situations because I don’t expect anything better, I don’t demonstrate much self-respect or ask for much respect from anyone else, and not even a blind person on a reality TV show could miss how clearly the last 5, or even 10, or hell even 15, years have demonstrated this.  I loved you in part because you are damaged, I loved you in part because you are unattainable, I loved you in part probably because loving you was some sort of penance, a secret wound, a perversely sweet, prolonged type of emotional self-flagellation. But I draw the line at being used as a pawn, or a prod, in damaging someone else.  You are going to have to carry on with that business all by yourself. Congratulations – you demonstrated the tremendous amount of power you can still wield over me thirteen years later. I’m not sure how much of a coup it is, how proud of yourself you should be, because in actuality, you’re not alone at all. I’m a sadly easy target, and as far as destroying me goes, you’re too late anyway. The others already got to me and picked through whatever heaps of bone and rag and scrap caught their magpie eyes.  There’s nothing left but enough bitterness to drive even the most patient away.  But reaching back across more than a decade and turning even those last few good memories sour? That was a pretty neat trick. There’s an astonishing sort of cruelty in that one, considering that a few cold memories are all I really have left that isn’t bitter poison. I just don’t understand what motivates you and I don’t care. I forgive a lot, since I seem to collect broken soldiers, but I don’t even want to try to understand you anymore.  I suppose the thing that hurts the most is that I think you really did understand me, without even trying too hard, and what you chose to do with that understanding was pretty awful.

I don’t need friends like you, and lovers like you are a dime a dozen.


Hole – Violet


So my new shrink thinks I have PTSD, and I don’t know if she’s right or not, but I do know that if I have it, the Army didn’t give it to me.  I was good at being a soldier because constantly scanning the horizon and imagining the worst-case scenario and thinking tactically was already second nature to me.  Anyway, this most recent bout of therapy has me thinking about the Army a good bit lately, and pulling out some old tidbits from the “writing fodder” folder to polish up. This one isn’t polished yet, and this one does in fact have an epilogue that it didn’t have when I originally sketched it out in 2008.  But “what really happened” isn’t really the point anyway, not in stories, and not in trauma either.  I have this gigantic complicated theory about trauma and about PTSD being an illness of time and it involves Tim O’Brien and Emily Dickinson and Deleuze and Guattari and it’s probably utter trash.  But I do remain convinced that the exact order of events, the exact details, isn’t finally the important part when you’re talking about the kind of story or event that can shape, or end, or save, or change, a life.  What matters is that the story makes you feel, that it interrupts and reroutes temporality and touches something from another time and space – and it makes that something irrupt into the supposedly seamless surface of the this/now and makes things go inside out a little bit. So it’s alright that this story is (now, due to a different type of irruption of time/space) not (any longer) exactly true.


At my last duty assignment, I had one of those completely punishable-by-UCMJ love affairs that I tended towards. It wasn’t so much that I hooked up with people you couldn’t take home to mom as much as people you just couldn’t take to the battalion Christmas party and introduce to the Command Sergeant Major. The reasons were varied, but it was almost always something that would get me into a world of fucking trouble one way or the other.  All the best ones were like that, anyway.

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Mo mhuirnín,

I don’t dream of you often, just once every six months or so, once a year probably. And why I would dream of you now, an entire ocean away, I don’t know.  The early, restless light slipping through yellow curtains keeps me from drifting back to sleep after I wake up, tangled in the sheets and confused, not sure whether you are here with me, whether I’m awake. I’d thought I felt your thumb brush lightly, drowsily, across my lips once, your breath light against the nape of my neck, your palm splayed across my hip.  When I curl my fingers into your black hair, stark against the white sheets even before dawn, I am in an eternal argument with myself, suspended between competing desires, to kiss your eyelids and smooth your hair from your face, or to gather your hair at the roots and pull almost as hard as I can, exposing your throat and making your green eyes flash awake. I do neither, this time, but I’m distantly aware that more and more often, I do not act on my desires.  I’m slowly being taught that I simply do not get what I want anymore, and the fear of losing you, the you I don’t even have, is so real and so sharp even now that I prefer to lie sleepless and still beside you, wanting and wanting but never moving or touching, suffocating for hours on my own shallow breath and my own pathetic desire. I can’t figure out how you got here; I can’t be sure which one of us was crying silently before the sun came up, in the throes of another bad dream; I can’t make sense of any of it, but I don’t care, because I had been so afraid I would never touch you again.  What I really want I can’t have anyway, not even in my dreams.  This strange ache, this ghost-visitation, these dream-tears, are all I can have, so I am willing to sit silently and make of my entire being a raw surface waiting to be wounded.

The bad dreams we hold each other through are, this morning, dreams within dreams, it turns out.  I finally let go and open my eyes, give up on the liminal state I’d been suspended in. I don’t know why, ever, and i certainly don’t know why now.  I do know that i blame you for the chasm that’s left when you tear us apart, even when my brain has brought you here in dreamspace only.  When you enter the room, something thick, invisible, but almost tangible grows between us, through the air, some sort of electric current that is still somehow organic, some surge that I both welcome and dread, even after all this time. I welcome it because it makes me wonder if I was even alive before you came into the room.   I dread it because I never forget what it feels like when you leave, like something is being pulled out of me by the roots.  A dream-memory of the plane of your cheek under my fingertips, my thumb not quite rough against your lower lip, your body not quite awake as I ghost my traitorous fingers along the curve of your thigh  – these are my souvenirs, this time.   Mine’s so light a touch as to seem impossible; my hand should burn your skin if skin could tell the truth.  You make me afraid of the violence of my own want for you, of feeling that I have to tear you, to make you hurt, so that you can feel what I feel when you touch me.  So I am simply afraid to touch, because it never seems enough, because I think i cannot be trusted.  I have never forgiven you for it.  I suppose I never will.


Live – Heropsychodreamer


Mo Dheartháir,

Twenty years ago this month, I followed you to the valley of the mountain. I’d cried at your leaving and found a way to follow you north.  Where we had been, there were forests, plantation ruins, Civil War pools.  There was pilfered bourbon and your kisses were sweet and sticky in the Alabama nights.  Our time was marked by red ant hills, degrees of heat radiating through the pavement far after sunset, country roads and cricket song.  You bit me and drew blood.  There autumn was something we’d heard of, but the trees still looked the same.  You stole my cigarettes, I drank your beer.  We loved with an easy, negligent violence, feeling too expansive for our own skins but sure our shapes would shift to fit us, in due time.

In the valley, autumn fell with a sharp crack, the leaves suddenly crisp and the moon big and orange as a bloated koi.  The nights unfurled before us, and we marked them with cheap wine and missing buttons from our flannel shirts.  For a while it seemed they never ended, never would.  The brisk evening air mixed with your cigarette smoke.  We climbed mountains, forded streams, built acrid, smoky fires and fell asleep in the rustling leaves.  I twisted my fingers around yours, then, sure we would never let go.  You wrote a song you called Oktember, and even now, twenty years later, when the first crisp night of autumn comes, I hear it in my head.  Then the nights smelled like possibility, and the breezes like our lives, so full and free, when all the scars we had, we’d given ourselves.

Odetta – House of the Rising Sun


Mo Mhuirnín,

Ten years ago this month, I said goodbye to you. The clouds stole your shadow when you got into the cab, so the last thing I saw of you then was almost a ghost-image, a flash of your keychain before the clouds quenched their dull glint from the light of the moon.  In the morning, the snow had covered your tracks, a fresh layer atop the hard-packed, grey ice we had walked on the day before.  You had lost a glove, and I walked the path we’d taken to the grocery store, thinking I might find it.  A doll’s shoe, a handful of bottle caps, an unlikely sock and the evidence of neighborhood dogs, but no glove.  I thought of holding your fingers, of breathing on them to keep them warm, of how you tasted somehow of salt air and beaches even in the cutting autumn wind.  When I got home, I washed your coffee cup, and for a long minute I had no idea where to put it when it was dry.

Ten years later, you came south to see me, and I don’t know why.  Your eyes looked the same, a shocking sea color under your shock of black hair.  I hadn’t spoken to you in ten years, but my skin answered yours when you took my hand, and time broke over me suddenly, a cruel wave that left me breathless and afraid.  Under friendly conversations about years passed and places lived, something huge and dark threatened to pull me under towards black expanse, to crush me under the weight of salt waves, to bear down on my lungs ’til there was no possible way to move, or live.  I could imagine us as if from high above, two small bodies lightly touching, a thin millimeter of skin between us and a thinner sliver of warmth adrift in a heaving grey sky.  When you  used to touch me, my skin would burn with the fever of you, and I felt your fingers so keenly I imagined they could cut.  You’ve touched me now, again, but the warm salt air is gone.  I saw it in your eyes for a long moment before I moved my hand away, pulled my coffee cup closer, and fought away a storm of seasickness.  Autumn falls hard this year as I say goodbye again, with no idea why you came back for a long afternoon, and no idea when the air will stop smelling of death and the weight of impossible things.


The Mamas and the Papas – California Dreaming

I’m in that mood, that mode. That feeling that sometimes indicates an upcoming Spot where sometimes Poetry happens. It isn’t happening. But anyway, it makes me realize a few things. One is that I am not apparently capable of writing fiction when something doesn’t feel wrong, when something does not in some way or another hurt me or make me feel a bit sad. On one level, that’s good — it means my destiny is not, apparently, to write Greeting Cards, and I can’t think of a worse destiny than that. On another, it’s bad, because it means — and yes, I’m just now admitting this to myself — that I occasionally let things get a little too far south just for the visceral edge of it, just for the Feeling of dissociation that comes, where it takes a poem to get me back to my body, or get me out of it entirely. I let shit go too far just to Feel. I really don’t care for how that might be read, and I don’t care for what it might say about me — and it certainly isn’t conscious and isn’t always about Poetry. But I’ll leave it without further exploration for now, because I’m not done Walking with my Staff, poking its narrow end into black holes and the spaces between rocks, looking for vipers and seashells and beautiful, poisonous flowers that only grow in the dark.

I can’t write without doing this, you see.

I heard a great story tonight. My friend R’s father just died, last week, after a protracted battle with some particularly nasty cancer. In the time he spent with his family during death-week, and the following painfully mundane post-funeral chores, his cousin told him about the family heirloom. It’s not a piece of silver or some porcelain, not an old carved cigar-store Indian or a ring to be passed from mother to daughter-in-law — it’s a title to New Amsterdam signed by Queen Elizabeth I, granting the land of New Amsterdam to this particular clan, which is descended from that most Commonly named of Uncommonly Mythological Men, John Smith. For his family’s service of 99 years to the Crown. Now, quite frankly, I don’t give a shit about the gaps in this story. What I adore is the idea that there could be a piece of paper in a safe deposit box somewhere, held for generations by a family that has become something we might call a mountain family, written in the hand of an English queen, granting this undeveloped piece of property that is now what it is to this clan of brothers. I want to write this, about what this means, about where it could go depending on what alternate universe I put it in. But that does not appear to be happening.

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