SOMEONE KEEPS FOLLOWING ME
Someone keeps following me
like the shadow of who I was supposed to be.
The dark sibling of light
whose face got turned away from the sun.
He’s the remnant of perfection that’s left of me.
He’s the one I was expected to achieve.
He’s the one I’m supposed to believe.
I’m what happened to him along the way.
And the defeat goes on and on and on.
I want to say look you were there.
You saw what went down.
How natural everything seemed at the time.
How inevitability governed everything like hindsight.
But he just stands there staring
if I were the most inconceivable thing on his mind.
He’s the son my mother should have had.
I’m the one she didn’t deserve.
He’s the blue flower.
And I’m the black dog.
He’s the favourite of the rain.
And I’m the fire hydrant that wound up in the sewer
after putting out the fire.
He wanted to live a good life with laudable accomplishments.
He wanted to do well for himself
given where we were born
and he was groomed for it
by the very people who had made him poor.
He vowed to become one of them and thought
all shall be well all shall be well
all manner of thing shall be well
and he’d know the kind of self-respect
you just can’t get on welfare.
I went slumming with anyone
who was passionate or dangerous.
I’ve always felt guilty because
I wasn’t better than I am.
I think it was something
my mother kept saying in rage about me
when I was young.
And my tough old broom pod of a granny
I was so much more like my unforgivable father
than my brother and sisters were
I could smell the burning flesh
of some kind of mark being branded on my heart.
O.K. I said
I’m evil but I’m smart
and there’s always poetry and art.
I’ll be self-destructively creative
and give myself up to visions in the desert
before they drive me out in May
when they cleanse the temples of smoke and incense
and they’re looking for a scapegoat
whose innocence is within question.
And that was the first great divide in the mindstream
between him and me
and after that we were two different shores
and one burning bridge.
And I was determined I wasn’t going to be the shadow
that got left behind.
So here we are forty-eight years later
and he’s asking me with those
eery condescendingly accusing eyes of his
if I think I’m as smart now as I used to be
before I started living my life like a river
instead of a highway
and as much as I love the stars
dropped out of astronomy
because everything felt starless and unshining.
You can make more money
asking stars how old they are
and where they’re going spectrographically
than you can sharing the little light you’ve got to go by
through poetry and painting.
things get worse
the better you get at them.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
You might still think of yourself
as an oscilloscope with a wavelength for a lifeline
but here you’re off the radar.
And I lived like that for years.
Women black coffee cigarettes and books.
I wanted to guide people by example
and lead them away from me.
I embodied the estranged compassion of the damned
in everything I did
and kept myself at an appropriate distance
in the aerial and thematic perspectives
of all my works.
I can empathize deeply with people
but seldom to the point
where I let them become me.
I have a plutonium soul
and the afterlife of a nuclear winter.
I’m one of the heavier elements of life
and my intensities are as natural to me
as the stability of his carbon is to him.
And the way I express myself
is more of an exorcism than a seance.
I dispossess myself of all things human
so they won’t be hurt by what’s left.
And I endure.
And I’ve got the energy
of an angry rogue star in my genes
that refuses to pale in his sunlight by comparison.
He graces our Russian Mongol ancestry with gilded graves
and tears that run like chandeliers
down his ballroom cheeks.
I trace it in lightyears
and leave the rest to chance.
He preens his decency.
I revel in the bright vacancy
the dark abundance
of my reptilian clarity.
He sees things in a white mirror.
I see through them in a black.
He mourns the things I do.
But he doesn’t know a damned thing about agony.
He thinks he’s the one who’s real.
And he resists me like temptation.
Not to feel might be the way to feel about Zen
but I indulge the passions of an unenlightened man
because I don’t trust purity
to remember that it’s just the fashion
of a passing moment
that buffs its own reflection in a doorknob
and passes judgment on the poor
with the stiff bliss of a happy slumlord.
His universe is Steady State.
Mine’s a Big Bang
empowered by a dark energy
that keeps accelerating my fate
into the void ahead of me
so by the time any kind of insight arrives
it’s always too late
to be news.
He’s the cornerstone.
I’m the quicksand.
He’s the habitable planet
and I’m the menacing asteroid.
He promotes evolution
and I’ve always got a rock in my hand
as big as the moon
to bring about a change in who rules
the windows and the mirrors
on the other side
of what they expect me to be in passing.
I’m the radical zero
who thinks it’s foolish
to try to make something out of nothing
given it’s already a given
and he’s the commonsensical whole number
that takes account of things.
He says he’s not perfect
to be arrogant about his humility
but that’s only a shadow of what he lacks.
I try to carry my own weight
because I don’t expect much
in the way of serious intelligent help
but he gets around
like a corpse on everybody’s backs
as if he were the stranger who came to the rescue.
He’s the crutch who leans on legs to hold him up
whenever he walks on water without oars.
I’m the bottom-feeder that he abhors.
But I can take a handful
of the muck and decay of my starmud
and turn it into waterlilies.
I can make my perishing into something beautiful.
I can use death like a spontaneously renewable resource
and make things live
through the transformative power of my art
that are totally blameless
whether they be light or dark.
He comes on like a lifeboat when he’s talking to women
as if he were walking by the sea.
He doesn’t know how to go swimming without an ark.
Women are attracted to me
like blood in the water
when they’re out far enough
to be thrilled by sharks.
I’m the zoo on the outside of the cage
that blunts its teeth on the bars.
He’s in it for the documentary footage
and a few convincing scars.
The sheep hunt tigers into extinction
and the goldfish are trawling
for grey nurses and great whites
to make sharkfin soup.
Even in hell
there’s a sense of proportion
almost a moral aesthetic
that goes unspoken
until someone spots a jackass
trying to lead an eagle around on a leash.
The distastes of a demonic imagination are not petty.
The taboo of the maggot
is not the rule of the whale.
So get behind me my shadow my brother self.
Don’t flash your lighthouse in my eyes
when the stars are out
as if I’m the one
that’s a few magnitudes shy of shining.
It would do you a lot of good to be a little bit bad
but then you’d feel too close to me for comfort
and forget who you are to everyone else.
I’ve never needed anything more
than the dust at my heels
to show me the way down.
I’m descending into heaven
and sometimes I’m plunging toward hell.
But what can you say about a man
standing at the edge of the bottomless abyss
of his own draconian absence
waiting for the flightfeathers of stray angels
with spare parachutes
to fall out of the sky?
I know you look so far down at me
from that overview
you’ve exalted like a balcony
that got it’s start in life as a pulpit
you suffer from vertigo.
But I could have told you little brother.
I wouldn’t want to alarm or harm you in any way
but I could have looked you straight in the eye
like a bemused king cobra
flaring over your nest like an unpredictable eclipse
or an umbrella somebody opened in the house
and diverted the luck of their lifeline
from the original course of its flowing
into a starmap for dice
pitted with eyeless blackholes
like the sockets in ivory skulls
lost in this wilderness alone
where nothing reminds them of home.
The dice are thrown.
You may be a better threshold than I am
but I’ve been crossed by the Rubicon
and I could have told you little brother
without even so much
as the penumbral shadow of a lie
to fall into your milk like a dragon.
I could have dipped
my other wing into your cup
as an antidote to clarify what ails you.
And as you drank up
I could have told you little brother.
The first shall be last
and the last shall be first
and it’s not a good idea when you’re here
to antagonize the lowlife
with your insufferable highness
from your upper story balcony
as if you were always trying
to get something out of your eye
who burns like a cinder
just to see if I can make God cry
to hear why
I would have told you little brother
even snakes can fly.