greyhound

I used to have a bag packed and ready
for the moment I would have to run.
It had my cash and notebooks,
CD player and batteries,
clothes and a travel toothbrush
and an extra lighter for cigarettes.

It’s been years since I’ve needed
to escape on no notice,
but now the bag that is packed
and ready to hop on the next bus
is my heart.

pain is not a vital sign

pain like slamming your hand
in a drawer just to feel
the relief when you stop.

pain you assimilate
into your days so that
when you fix it,
you realize that you thought
that’s just what the world was like.

and it is like that.
life is pain,
they say.
love hurts.

but that isn’t a requirement.

there’s pain you have to cope with,
learn to work around,
because you could erase it
but then you might walk so much
that a strained ligament tears.
because the drugs that wipe out the pain
will leave you worse than you were before,
or they might stop your lungs from working.
that’s one way not to be in pain.
(consult your doctor
and your own addictive tendencies,
don’t listen solely to the poet
with a grudge and a mother
who doped her organs into failure).

but there’s pain
you don’t have to bear.
love can be uncomfortable;
the weight of pulling your lover
over a milestone might make
your arms and head ache.
but don’t mistake dramatics for love.
don’t think abuse is average.

and persist even when the doctors tell you
that you must be mistaken
without even listening or looking.
they don’t inhabit your body.
they’re told to consider pain
a vital sign,
but that isn’t right.
pain is not the only way
to know you are alive.

swallowing the sword of Damocles

everything that has kept me alive
has also nearly killed me.
the cigarettes that overloaded
my overstimulated synapses.
caffeine giving me the energy
to survive another panic attack.
the knowledge of suicide as a way out,
keeping my options open.
running on the waterfront
until my metatarsals nearly broke.

and poetry, providing a pressure valve
for the things too big
for my mind to hold alone,
even though I struggle
to spit out every word.

the nineteenth wonder of Jersey City

Even my hindsight has astigmatism.
If I don’t look at my past
through the right lenses,
I get a headache.

Sometimes I pretend that my life
could be different than it is.
I let myself slip and do things
some people don’t think twice about
like getting married
or starting school.
I slip and then the ground
crumbles just as I take a breath.
I shoild have known better;
I’ve seen rock bottom
from both sides, now.

Riches to rags, as I say,
and I can’t even claw my way
into uncomfortably middle-class.
Poverty isn’t even a cycle.
It’s a pit.
And it does things to you
that take more than a few paychecks
to heal from.

Hypervigilance causes at least
half of my problems,
but it also fixes at least half.
It evens out.
Sometimes people wonder why
I’ve got plans A through Z,
and then they marvel
when I roll with every sucker punch,
from being late for my own wedding
right up through
my father’s murder.
I shouldn’t have been able to see these things,
but I had.
And I didn’t even need a pack of cards to do it.
Then again, I’ve always been
a bad statistic.

pain olympics

when I tell you about my trauma
I don’t tell you for your pity.
it doesn’t help me to have to comfort you
because you can’t even hear about
what I’ve lived through.
and I understand that others have had it worse;
I’m still here to tell the tale
so clearly it can’t be all that bad.

I tell you because I hope you will understand.
I tell you so you know thay you’re not alone.