40

By Peter Schwartz

Letters



There’s no greater monster than the amnesia we feed into from our nightly perches.   I’ve forgotten more in forty years than you’ll remember in your whole life.   Apologies won’t help so I’ll just give you one quick piece of advice then be done.  You’re your own children and have the choice to stay young or grow up which will effectively kill them.  Be whatever you can live with then never look back.  That’s all.

Sorry, as usual, there’s more.  Numbness must be the most common state in the world, and yet, if you show people this, if you make no effort to hide your lack of feelings, I can almost guarantee you will have problems.  If 99 people out of a 100 pretend something, that 1 person who doesn’t ruins the whole charade. That person will be attacked until he or she pretends, or worse.  So go ahead, live on Mars, but make sure you make regular Earthly appearances.  And smile, but only a little bit, and never, under any circumstances, show them all of your teeth.

Don’t try to be clean in this life.  You’ll only disappoint and frustrate yourself and those around you.   I hardly know anything about happiness but if I imagine the happiest person on earth, it’s a woman with period blood smeared on her face, shooting hollow points at the police.  Or a young boy who has no idea it is not normal to eat egg noodles with margarine 5 times a week.   I tried to hide everything from you and I believe you hate me for that but I also believe that it is easier to hate a single person than the whole world, so, that is my gift to you.  Either way, happy birthday.

As you grow older, you may become shocked at how expensive everything is.  Fresh fruits and vegetables cost what meat once did.  And if you want either without pesticides or growth hormones, forget about it. Yeah, poisons are so common they don’t even call them poisons anymore.  And sorry, but this is just the beginning.  Emotionally, things can really get expensive.  If I smile at a toddler in the supermarket, more often than not his or her parents will give me a dirty look like I’m going to molest him or her right there near the canned beats.  Ridiculous, but if trust were sold by the pound it would cost somewhere in the thousands or even millions.  And the price for trying to love someone?  Well, you see what happened with us.

Okay, I just read these last two parts over again and realize they totally contradict each other which might confuse you.  I’d mention something about my intentions being good but I think we’re way beyond that.   So, I’ll use this to illustrate my last point.  Never be afraid to contradict yourself.  If you say one thing and then another, it doesn’t necessarily make you a liar because that’s just the nature of language.  It plays tricks.  It’s better to be big, to be a billion zillion things that nobody can piece together or make sense of than to be small and probably still misunderstood in the end.  That’s exactly where I went wrong with you.   I tried to shrink myself into something you could understand because I didn’t want you to feel overwhelmed like I always have, both as a child and as an adult.   I wanted your world to be something that could sit on your dresser, that you could stare at like a simple pet as you brushed your hair, or turn away from as you read a book.  It can’t be though.  Sorry, but the price of that kind of calm is dying inside.  Happiness is a giant monster that must be hunted.  There is no escaping the wilderness.


Love,

You-know-who.


Tell me the story of your pain and disappointment.

Every excruciating detail.

Tell it to me so slowly that it becomes something else in the telling.

Tell me in English, but feel free to throw in words from other languages from time to time so that you know I am paying attention when my eyes don’t cloud with misunderstanding.

Tell me how hurt you were when your mom said nothing.

Tell me how betrayed you felt when your best friend died, but kept on living and turned the rest of your friends against you.

Tell me everything. Now.

 

 

Tell me why you walk with that limp.

Tell me how you came about your hatred of people who cannot spell.

 

Describe hell from the inside out for me, again, slowly, slowly.

 

 

And if you won’t, tell me why you never tell me anything.

Tell me why I am a fool filled with guesses even though I know how much you get off on correcting me.

Tell me why I can’t fuck you.

Tell me why there are hardly any reasons left for anything.

Tell me why they say blood is blue even though it’s obviously red.

Tell me why people are like this.

Tell me why we are called people just like they are called people.

Tell me something that makes a difference.

And hey, listen, make sure it’s a really big difference.

Don’t fuck me on this.

 

 

Tell me there will be beaches in my future.

And ice cream.

Tell me everything I’ve ever forgotten.

Tell me my name.

Tell me my real name.

Say it slower.

Look at me harder.

Tell me I’m shit to God so it at least makes sense.

Tell me I’m going to be President.

Tell me I will be assassinated on my very first day in the White House so all that nervousness will have been for nothing.

Tell me a child could beat me up, but don’t beat me up.

Get me addicted to the idea of your approval.

Give it to me a few times. Then never again.

 

 

Tell me I want to fuck men but am too scared.

Dress me in a dress then beat me for wearing that dress.

Tell me I killed my brother in my sleep and that the police are just too dumb to piece what happened together.

Be the detective that does.

Tell me I am going to be 400 pounds by next week and that no-one will ever make eye contact with me again for the rest of my fat life.

Tell me karma is real and I will never get it and this is going to keep happening over and over and over and over again.

Tell me a lie more convincing than the truth.

 

 

Tell me my hair is made of licorice.

Tell me my eyes are really my balls.

Tell me I had a kid 20 years ago and that he is in the next room waiting to hug me and thank me for the life I gave him because he is getting married and is very, very happy.

Tell me I’ll never.

Tell me my teeth are not my teeth but the teeth of a third world child whose parents decided they wanted to eat that day.

Tell me my skin is titanium and that two years from now I will be given a brand-new heart. Then tell me you’re kidding and cut the sides of my mouth like the joker in the dark knight.

Hurt me until I feel nothing then continue to explore that nothing.

Break the rewind button on my old VCR.

 

 

Tell me I’m dead.

Tell me I’m dead and when I freak out, rub mint leaves on my temples and stroke my hair and then tell me you were just making a stupid joke, that I’m alive as summer in a douche commercial.

Tell me slowly then quickly, slowly then quickly, so I can laugh at the rhythm of your lips.

 

 

Make me a promise in the form of a statue.

Let birds shit on it.

Let frat boys pee on it.

Let it get hit by lightning and crack open and when that new, wet, disgusting mutation of me crawls out, fuck it, fuck him up too.

Let the biggest loser we know make fun of this.

Choke me just with your thumb and pinky to let the world see and know how weak I really am.

Giggle as I turn purple.

Remind me purple is for fags.

 

 

Tell me my father raping me was because I am sexy.

Tell me that that atrocity is now somehow good for my bowel movements.

Ah, make up a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo, for which I am particularly prone.

Explain my sins in terms of time, weather, and place.

Tell me I matter to more people than I really do.

Tell me that I’m Japanese and that the reason I don’t have slanted eyes is because I was abducted at birth and given surgery so that I could enjoy the benefits of living here as an Aryan.

Call me Gook and Charlie and make gun shooting gestures at me.

Tell me that the Holocaust was a blast but Hitler should have finished the job.

Tell me about the evil already in me.

Tell me twice.

 

 

Tell me I’m a farmer living in Idaho and that my potatoes ain’t shit.

Tell me you know I’ve hired illegal workers and that the police are on their way.

Tell me every joint I ever smoked was dusted but that I was too stupid to realize it.

Tell me my ear is a sewer.

 

 

Tell me I look like John Travolta.

No, tell me I look like that kid from Mask.

Or the Elephant Man.

Tell me every woman that’s ever kissed me did so on a dare.

Tell me I’ll never get it up again.

If I do, laugh.

If I don’t, laugh.

Laugh at me like an old slave owner.

Niggerize me.

 

 

Tell me I should have been a woman.

Tell me I am.

Tell me I’m going to have my period for the rest of my life, uninterrupted.

Tell me I smell like iron.

Tell me if I have a baby she will be a slut too.

Tell me if I were in China I would have never been allowed to be born.

 

 

Tell me I don’t even deserve to cry.

Tell me the evil in me is a balloon and blow and blow and blow into my holes until I pop and the world becomes a really shitty place.

Tell me my mother has been paying my friends to be my friends for forty years.

Tell me you spit in my soup, came in my milk.

Yell at me like Adam must have Eve after you-know-what.

Like a bad big brother, make me hit myself over and over again.

Tell me Barry is dead.

And Lynn, and Erin.

Smear their blood on my stupid face and tell me it’s all my fault, that if I never loved them it wouldn’t have ever come to this.

 

 

Tell me in the voice I most recognize.

Tell me with intimacy, tenderness; like you think it’s turning me on.

Tell me on a crowded moving train so I can’t even scream.

Laugh as I swallow that scream.

Then another.

Then another.

Let your laughter be the last thing I hear before I pass out.

(1)

I’ve always had a certain love for exits
you see a permanent immigrant to more bachelorhood
than strictly necessary, me giving in

to the pollution like weak tea, me as chops and
giant blocks, a paperboy with the taste of ashes
in his friendly fingers or a

reporter with no news, a robot of light
bicycling backwards from the gravity, shirt off
set to kill the haze: I see

exits everywhere, library or restaurant
hospital or airport, roads already tilting towards their
sequels, regeneration in a

black hole, reversed dollars, missing owls
I’m your meaty amnesia, your continuous
last chance, your fire escape:

your super crutch.

(2)

we’ve transplanted you, my five
hundred pound shadow, my uranium boy
my pile of pills and ditches

but your monkey business still thrives
my hypnotized hen, my fire-eating frankenstein
my sleepwalker, you squawk

like a hostage every time I touch your toes
so I’ve memorized your jaw line
my bachelorette, my nightly reflex

my silly scavenger, my glass tax
you’re the perfect amphibian for this
sunny tundra, my juju, my invisible

dogface.

(3)

every bachelor knows the desperate
olympics in his cerebellum won’t get
him the girl, that eggshells

are her flytrap, that enough turbulence
can misguide any plane, that mutations
come with too much time

alone, but that there must be something
worth anything because every bachelor
has fallen in love

with his idea
of exits.


Dear Carmelina,

When Raj asked if I wanted to join you two in a ménage à trios I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. The only problem was that I was tripping on three hits of Purple Haze so when I kissed your thick lips all I could think of was getting my dick between them. But we’d just started so when I moved my hips up to meet your mouth.

“Whoa, slow down, cowboy.”

In my hallucinating state, I felt totally rejected. Then you and Raj started fucking and by the time it was my turn, I was a million miles away. That’s why I couldn’t get it up.

 

Dear Amy,

That first time you did Reiki on me, well, there are really no words for how it felt. You lit sage and waved it around my limbs, head, and torso in preparation for our session. You told me to put myself in a totally safe place. Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before so I fell in love with you that night. That’s why when you talked about marriage and kids the next time we saw each other, I didn’t even freak out. But then you started putting pressure on me to make money which has never been my strong point. And when you realized I wouldn’t be changing any time soon, you ended it. You left me alone on the path of Reiki.

 

Dear Babysitter,

We played a game where you dared my friend Cinnamon to rub her ass against mine. I think technically this qualifies as molestation but I remember thinking I was incredibly lucky to be part of something so grown-up at the mere age of six.

 

Dear Lisa Sparxxx (famous pornstar),

You’ve come to represent everything I’ve ever wanted and can’t have. When I see your big breasts, thick hips and perfect ass, I don’t get horny anymore. I get sad. I mourn the fact that I’ll never touch you. I desperately wish I was a football player or rock star or whatever kind of man you realistically might want. And I hate myself for not being him.

 

Dear Cynthia,

I would have been anything for you. I meant it when I told you I’d help raise your kids and try to heal all the stuff you’d never talk about. Waking up that first morning after our first night together, you handing me a plate of French toast and fruit, I fell in love with you all over again. Then, later that same afternoon, you accused me of masturbating in your shower. I denied it because I’d done nothing of the sort, but you had already turned to stone. When I cried you asked me if I was mentally unbalanced. No Cynthia, I wasn’t, those are called feelings

 

Dear Fellow Traveler,

It was dangerous working illegally in Eliat. Those Arab guys pinched my ass and tried to get me to fight them until your friend stepped in and told them he would fuck them all. But when you said it was too bad Hitler hadn’t finished the job? That was really over the line. What you didn’t know was that I’m Jewish and that I kept my mouth shut because you and your crew were the only thing keeping me safe.

 

Dear George and Robert,

Thanks for trying to get me home on your skateboards that night. And for propping me up when that cop came. According to you, he asked if I had been drinking and I replied fuck you and fell backwards, unconscious before I even hit the pavement. That must have been pretty funny. When I woke up in the hospital the next morning, my arms scarred from pulling IVs out as nurses tried to put them in, one nurse told me she thought they shouldn’t have given me anything so that I’d feel the full brunt of the hangover I had coming to me. I remember not understanding why she was blaming me for a decision that had been made while I was unconscious.

 

Dear Uncle Bernie,

You’re dead now, but I was just wondering if you knew that I faked my Bar Mitvah. My dad had me memorize an index card of transliterations so when I “read” from the Torah, I wasn’t really reading at all. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what I was saying.

 

Dear Keira,

I still can’t believe you licked my asshole that time. Nobody had ever done that and I’m pretty sure nobody ever will again, so I guess that’s a kind of bond we’ll always share.

 

Dear Joe (stepfather #1),

You drank vodka in the dark and kept to yourself for the most part but once, just once, you got up in my face and when I didn’t back down you called me crazy. And when I tried to kill myself you said I was just looking for attention as if that somehow discredited my pain. I get it though, I probably reminded you too much of yourself. You died of alcohol; your way just took longer.

 

Dear Dad,

I have one good memory of you. You and I were in the ocean and every time a wave came you hoisted me up safely over it. I’ve thought about what you were trying to tell me by that many, many times. To be above everything is the best answer I’ve found so far.

 

Dear Thugz,

I only made it about twenty steps out the door when you pulled out your guns and marched me back into the house. You took turns punching me in the face thinking that I was holding out but I was just poor. That dollar you took from my pocket was my last. When you tried to hustle me back outside, I realized it was to shoot me. I almost lost my mind in that second but decided I’d force your hand instead and end the nightmare. I screamed.

“NO FUCKING WAY!”

I closed my eyes, fully expecting to feel the bullet, but you ran away.

 

 

 

 

 

Kimberly and I had for a few months exchanged idle suggestions that I come to New York to read at one of the Literary Experiences.  Then United had a special.  Buy a ticket with the moon and Pleiades in Acme special configuration, and get another ticket free.  I happened to be traveling for business under that auspicious astronomical prodigy, so I thought to myself, still with an idle inflection, “hey, what better use for that free ticket I have coming?”

I asked Kimberly what she thought, and after a while she responded, “Well, you know, late March is about right for the next TNBLE.  I’ve got you down.”  Oh shit.  So much for idleness.  As I firmed up travel plans I increasingly looked forward to meeting Kimberly and others with whom I was familiar from TNB, including Kristen Elde and Tod Goldberg.  Kimberly set the theme “Growing Pains”, which gave me plenty of space for creation (which is to be expected, since this is the most prominent theme of TNB pieces).

I wrote and re-wrote my piece, a poem called “Growing up Misfit” which I’ll post in a day or two. [Done].  I picked out an appropriate Senegalese kaftan with Djellaba stylings (minus the hood, of course,) made by the excellent tailor Dantata near the Muslim Quarter, Bogobiri Corner, of Calabar.  I was ready.  After an uneventful trip Friday morning I arrived at LaGuardia and took the shuttle to the hotel, taking a moment to puzzle at the groups of soldiers with prominent sidearms hanging out ostentatiously with police at the Queens–Midtown Tunnel.  “What, do they think they’re the Comitatus Posse?” I wondered.

Tonight there will a release reading for my book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, at KGB Bar in NYC at 7pm. In celebration of its polyvocal soul, I’ve gathered a number of friends and fellow literarians to help me read from the book, including:

Lincoln Michel, James Yeh, John Madera, John Dermot Woods, Rozalia Jovanovic, Nicolle Elizabeth, Todd Zuniga, James J. Williams III, Terese Svoboda, Emma Straub, Sasha Graybosch, Nick Bredie, Nora Jean Lange, Joe Sullivan, Peter Schwartz, Timmy Waldron, and Brianna Colburn.

All outstanding writers in their own right, I really look forward to hearing how they give voice to these poems. The reading will also feature videos from people across the country, including BL Pawelek, Ryan W. Bradley, and AD Jameson. I’ve personally been recording videos for these poems for a while now, and I encourage you to watch one or two here. (Want to make one of your own? I’ll send you a copy of the manuscript and let you have at it!)

Here’s a link to the event listing. Please come, or suggest it to a local friend!


 

A friendly reminder:

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, NYC will soon be bloomin’!

Mark your calendars now for Friday, March 26th for readings from your favorite TNB writers, centered around the theme: GROWING PAINS!!

The details:

tears…

You woke up crying. 

“I wish my uncle was still alive.”

“I know, baby.  Maybe he went where he needed to go though?”

 “Yeah, he’s in a better place.”

 

sex…

I couldn’t get it up that first time because I wasn’t sure you really wanted me in you.  The second time, you said I was too big.  I tried to be gentle, came as quickly as I could. 

 

soup…

I cooked matzah ball soup with onions, mushrooms and carrots.  No chicken because you’re vegetarian.  I heard the pride in your voice when you told your sister I was cooking dinner for us.  You said it was odd to smell food in your apartment that you hadn’t made.  I left you the leftovers. 

 

surprise…

dear peter,

I tried calling last night and today, but have not been able to reach you, so email will have to suffice.  Last weekend left me with serious concerns about us.  We did connect, but we need more than that if something romantic between us is to survive.  We live our lives in opposite ways.  You are spontaneous, where I am structured.  You live for the moment, but I plan for the future.  You don’t care about society, yet I take my role as part of the larger community seriously.  You cultivate the internal life, but I exist very much in the outside world. Where you value emotion, I prize logic.

We’re also at different places in our lives.  I’ve begun to establish my career, am pursuing my studies, and have many other responsibilities.  You have focused on art and writing and have not established the kind of responsibility and stability that I need in a partner.  I just don’t think there is a place for a lasting romance between us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, NYC will soon be bloomin’!

Mark your calendars now for Friday, March 26th for readings from your favorite TNB writers, centered around the theme: GROWING PAINS!!

Friday, March 26, 2010
Happy Ending Lounge
302 Broome Street

Doors open: 7:00pm
Program begins: 8:00pm

Cover: FREE*!!

Hey everybody,

Some news about my new chapbook…

It’s called Old Men, Girls, and Monsters, and it is now available for sale through the Achilles Chapbook Series.  To buy a copy, just click here.

What people are saying…

Hostage

By Peter Schwartz

Memoir


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009. I’m in my room on Albert Street in Augusta Maine, being held hostage. A woman almost a decade my junior has just told me she was raped last night, but for some reason she is directing all her rage at me. I’m trying to be supportive but she’s hitting me with everything she has, making fun of my anthropophobia and bi-polarity. It’s actually not the words that hurt so badly, it’s the fact that she would go after me like this. If she knew more about me, she’d have even better ammunition.

I’m asking if she wants to call the police but I know she doesn’t want to go through the degrading process of a trial so now I’m asking if she knows where this fucker lives. She likes that. I fantasize with her about finding his house, cutting his lights and phone, running in there, hurting him like he hurt her. But that part doesn’t last long. Now I’m getting questioned why I would make such an offer when I clearly hate her guts. She hates me so much right now she can’t even imagine I don’t feel the same way about her. I’m a safe target and I get the sense she has been waiting for this moment for years. I’m a monster, and nothing I say is going to change that. She tells me in a slightly different voice that if I hang up she will most likely kill herself.

I don’t understand rape, I really don’t. The whole turn-on with sex for me is that someone actually wants me. Simply taking that from someone is the most un-sexy thing I can imagine. I do understand the desire for vengeance though. My father used to beat the shit out of me over twenty years ago and I still occasionally fantasize about flying to his apartment in New York City and getting justice. Now she’s mocking my poetry and fiction, saying I think I’m so spiritual but I’m bullshitting myself, I’m just scared. I want to call her a fat, disgusting, piece of shit but I know those are the last words she needs to hear right now.

I’m think I’m him now. She’s making fun of the fact that I couldn’t get it up once. I’m not a real man and probably want to fuck my mother. I can’t take this. I cannot sit here and take this. I want to fight back but society’s rules are pretty clear here: victims have carte blanche to say whatever the hell they want. I’m a leech, a user, a liar, and a cheater. I contribute nothing to society. Okay, I’m there. I can’t believe I’m about to do what I’m about to do. Deeply nauseous, I instinctively glance at my toilet. I’ll most likely throw up later.

Even though according to her I have her life in my hands because I’m her only real friend, I’m telling her she can do whatever she wants. Another person entirely, I’m hanging up, imagining her hearing the sound of that dial tone, how that must be the loneliest sound in the universe. How alone she must feel. I fucking hate myself; I’ve proved her point; I really am that monster. But I’m also finally free of her wrath. I take a deep breath and try to remember who I was an hour ago.

 

 

 

In my worst moments, when I’m awake and shouldn’t be, when I feel as though I am merely surviving this life, I think: what am I? I don’t know what I am but I do know a little about the habits of the creature that is me. Maybe the most important duality I inhabit is that between focusing on my mind and focusing on my heart. When I’m in my mind, I’m serious, possibly a little cranky, and doing something useful like accepting my next friend on Facebook. When I’m in my heart, I’m either writing my next new poem or practicing one of my more inspired hobbies like autoerotic asphyxiation or Reiki.

I’m an American but I ain’t stupid, I know most Americans live in their minds. The reason for this dates back to a bunch of old philosophers who thought thinking was really awesome. And it was, but ask a shaman if there’s more power in the human heart than the mind. Go ahead, ask. I’ll wait. See? Everybody knows shamans don’t lie and it would be culturally insensitive and possibly even racist to think that one would. So for the love of everything good and pure, just trust me, the heart is a better place to be. Without quoting saints or any other rhetoric devices, suffice to say, you don’t feel joy with your mind now, do you?

See, for those of you who don’t know it I’m a poet. And I see a lot of dry, contrived, sober, clever poetry published online and in print. Let me break down some types of poets for you. One kind of poet is the person (usually a guy) that constantly references ancient mythology or history without adding any nuance to the myth or story. Old and new scholars and wannabe types trying to ride the coattails of someone else’s glory. Then there is the conceptual poet. This poet is devoted to style and may not even care about content. This poet has pretty good odds of getting published these days and can probably be observed at your local Starbucks.

I don’t know how many of you are poets so I don’t know how interesting this is so I won’t go on too much longer here about the different kinds of poets, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what I call the line lover. This is a person who writes essays then breaks them down into short lines. Of course it’s a poem they might say, look, it has line breaks. Then there are the poets that use words that only a tiny percentage of the population knows or cares about. They think a poem should be a puzzle, a little nightclub of exclusivity to boost up the old ego.

Poetry has many different uses and however anyone wants to use poetry is their business, but once you’re out in the world of the published you’re influencing poetry and as someone who has devoted my life to the craft, the actual craft of poetry, I’m insulted at what some people call poetry. It makes sense though. As with art, poetry is in this magical category of stuff that a whole bunch of people agree is really deep, the very study of depth itself to some people, and so, such claims are going to attract all kinds of people who simply want to think of themselves as deep.

As for the heart, emotions, and poetry, I call out to any and all poets reading this to remember and honor the reservoir of all reservoirs of creativity, that messy beating thing in your chest. There are certainly sappy, incomplete poets who go too far in the other direction and write sloppy, emotional poems that do nothing for the reader. A poet has to open his/her heart, linger in that uncomfortable, vulnerable space where poetry can happen and get a little lucky. Every venture into that zone, every word I write, is not sacred. Personally, I now publish only the very best fruits of these experiments, the distillations of my occasional successes.

My goal in writing this essay is to push all the publishing poets of the world to use their hearts a little more and their heads a little less. Poetry needs what society needs right now: genuine, powerful, well chosen words and not self-ironic, obscure, linguistic pyrotechnics. Fluff. My genuine apologies if this happens to offend anyone but I feel strongly about the craft of poetry and its future. Poetry’s everything to me, my baby, my woman, my spirit, so when you treat her badly, I feel badly. Again, emotions, but I promise it’s all worth the effort. Living in your head is just too damned easy. And in reference to what emotional, heartfelt, well crafted poetry is in my definition, yes, I know that’s subjective so please nobody write “it’s all subjective” in your comments. I know that. I’m just a poet expressing his views on poetry.