finding progressions in mere lists when none of the facts so integral to who you are can be reached absenting oneself from a situation by fainting sitting on a wood fence for hours in hope that a new face will show itself to talk failures loom larger in places where little else is around pinching the tongue of one seizuring the flood displacement would have been a glorified camping vacation had he not learned of her betrayal feigning knowledge of facts mentioned in an offhand tone as if you knew them already thoughts of suicide to stay in the game when mere to-do lists fail making the position clear threatens to make it vulnerable even the sexual organs of family are open for dinner conversation once stricken with severe illness trained up enough not even to think of your wife’s sisters, friends, as women not introducing your daughter to the old friend in the supermarket because she is unattractive glances crossing through mirrors immigrant businesses marked by American flags in the entrances hated by one’s mother for good reason where do you go when even your parents are homeless? restrain your envy of artists lest you find yourself one— alone, weird, ridiculed, poor small towns where loveliness goes wasted crushing the infant, asleep in the most absurd place phone book on the seat for height did Hitler come off as a buffoon during his rise to power too? dreams where you are no longer wheelchair-bound what is most important about most of us goes unseen feeling inauthentic under makeup, but covering that up too notice-me attire the realization that the future in which we placed our dreams is no longer ahead of us the license that being an artist gives to neglect loved ones time, which no face-lift can outrun, curses the gorgeous the pet was never more terrorizing than in the decade following its disappearance from its tank oily rainbows, contorted, in gasoline spills struggling to write what you forgot you had once written what remains in the typewriter after death fights where vases get shattered against walls books from sunken boats mothers wondering, not whether you had a good time, but whether you were the prettiest at the party rejecting new art on grounds that it rejects beauty relieves one from having to state that those finding beauty in it are wrong cans rusted to the shelf couch cushions to muffle the noise fake chicken squeaking under the old person’s knife coloring within the lines to get the Christmas bonus the flagrant sharing of child porn in the early days of dial-up not inviting people because you do not want them not to come you knew him so well—until you found his body hanging fur thinned out at the base of the tail where the dog bites itself in a frenzy of holding back pee and shit reacquiring your identity, past vistas, through hearing the songs of your youth degrees rescinded due to atrocities later committed accusing someone of pulling away too quickly from a hug crows chasing squirrels into the roadkill lane the urge to scrape the weapon hidden in your hand against the walls and railings you pass sewage shallow enough now to wade through for bodies of family what just happened, and what now? withering without attention the thing you love turned into a career every White House solar panel torn away for cameras on move-in day wondering how to get the beloved out of your house, not knowing what to do or say next afraid of change, you would be the Jew who did not get out in time education as a proxy for class makes it easier to ignore how poor all of us—even PhDs—are becoming between family members long-separated filling the silence takes time and energy, and so the poorest are less likely to reach out assume that someone has something to say and even silences speak those for whom a fortune cookie is just as good as a therapist just because the river’s water is holy does not mean that it is drinkable dependent on the distraction of daily troubles to a creature in need of words, why not just say the words if you already show the love those words are to designate? studying the photo, which you normally overlook each day that urge to prove one’s belonging to whatever group it may seem to advantage one to belong to in a white grade-school, the one dark girl finds herself in the role of note-passer between crushes behind the camera in order not to participate a former student ends up being your nurse as you battle to live avoiding cliché at the expense of beauty the secret guilt of medical professionals those who do not want to appear to have missed a joke, but who hold back laughter just in case searching for someone to make sure you should be avoiding them comedy to defuse an attack and uplift the dying when being fired speaks well of you startled to find him looking so different than he had in life still visiting the grave—the last one left to do so transitioning from a heartbeat to a heart tick—one too loud in bed ever to get used to watching the one next to you sleep, wondering how such a face might one day break your heart pictures of former homes every U-haul move exhumes a mess of memories bath-towel scarves layers poking out from flannel cuffs punched around by your spouse the night before the start of a new job neighborhoods where you are afraid to catch a red light love does not turn out well for so many, all of whom figured things were going to be great for being careless about the relationship, you reach out after years to a friend, who claims you apologized already a decade ago wisps of snow enter with the booted man on their turbaned heads they see who can balance the biggest bundle of white-people dirties the metronomic stability of drum-machine music, bereft of the organic shifts in tempo expected from faltering humans, both reflects the shift in humanity to a mono-machinic mode of being and—along with fast food—encourages it reviving someone only to beat them toes curled away from the cold floor wondering whether you were liked because of your race or in spite of it illegal to eat a swan in a land that will not feed you cult indoctrination undermining years of parental investment criticized for having subjects too posed even though poses reveal something about them Gucci bags over homeless legs liquor-store candescence in the wet street at night bra and panties for the beach the killer’s reservoir of tenderness for dogs the days of walking along, rolling some junk car tire the urge to sew together identical twins prisoners devouring each word of a loved one’s letter, fingering each indent on the page putting in more work for his recovery than he puts in himself will have him guilt-flee into the well-known bosom cursory editing of old work so as to get to new work is a curse of the overflowing prison hospice not having any of your own, you ask others to read aloud their own letters from home power directs guests to sit in the seat with sawed-down legs flying phobics who become driving phobics after learning, in their therapy sessions, how much riskier driving turns out to be is that the upright body of a shaved bear, or just that of an old madman in the trees? between funerals feigning illness to get attention, even if only clinical, from a distant doctor-father the friend who stays to burn and the other who leaps part after a final embrace when those asking for change were at their best—how would they react to such images of themselves? bits of steel from the fallen towers given out as gifts enough gay-therapy shocks to have you forget how to put on underwear cold air rolls over the racecar bed and along the floor from the window peeled of its winter plastic for escape the notebook doodles behind what would ultimately be the official Nazi logo regarding what the spouse left behind— lotion, brush with tangled hair— as a sign that she will come back motorcycle club patches, and the process of sewing them on you just knew that the coffin bed would go once your funk phase was through, but here it is decades later driven away by the retard’s presence less from disgust than from how it bars all indulgence in self-pity fear that breathing in too deep might allow germs to take deeper root treated as if a child for whom they have to pretend no one mentions that people die here too coffins afloat down city streets those acting from some official capacity to serve you (teacher, nurse, priest), somehow fail to count as people to talk to diaphragm and spermicide baby does God better hear a prayer when it is from an entire parish? smashing your head through a window to end an argument realizing that you are starting to forget what she looked like the feeling that there is nothing to do now that you have survived the disease when you will do anything to avoid the sickness of withdrawal, who cares what people think about your smell? unable to shake the feeling that all construction, from bridges even to paper planes, is pointless work just to survive—so much to result in what for your children you will later call “the lost years” birth trees choked out by disease preferring the known of misery over the unknown of change scientists drunk in celebration after detonation, smiling—but only for collective reassurance wearing a photo-mask of mom so that the orphan will feed from the bottle traumas transmuting across generations without deliberate effort that same stock pattern of dolphin squeals in each TV episode
M. A. Istvan Jr., ever on the lookout for what he might strip-mine for his own art rather than for what might help him speak well at dinner parties, has forfeited becoming a “cultivated person,” which is hard on his vanity especially now that he has entered into cultivated environments where the chief measure of status is being able to speak well on all topics (preferably with a Mid-Atlantic accent). The big roadblock to Istvan’s goal to becoming less moved by others is that he is deeply offended by mediocrity—indeed, even while understanding that each human cannot fail to be mediocre to some extent. Visit his website or Poets and Writers.