November 29, 2020

“Memories Like Scars,” Poetry by Topper Barnes

“Memories Like Scars,” Poetry by Topper Barnes
Memories like Scars 
There is a 22-year-old somewhere  
Buried beneath the layers of abuse 
Curled up like a starving street cat 
Its fur caked with grime, oil, and feces  
Those star speckled marble eyes 
Bulging from the frail skull  
And the shy stomach purring  
While the confident takes its milk 
With a trowel she can be found 
A bit of digging and smoothing over 
With time 
Her blistered lips that have been 
Bitten by glass roses 
Will heal 
The gory craters dotting her face 
Torn open during 4am battles 
With invisible insects 
Will recover 
Her skeleton will grow a new coat 
Night by night 
Day by day 
Meal by meal  
A shape will appear where a spike 
Once stood 
And those tear tracks dipped 
In mascara  
Running down her cheeks 
Simply vanished 
With a little bit of time  
And digging and smoothing over 
That 22-year-old from somewhere 
Could be here feigning a smile 
Choking on a laugh 
Fresh and pretty and new 
Like before 
Her scarred black liver 
Chiseled with patterns of back alleys 
Of motel rooms 
Of lustfully vicious faces 
Twisted without regret 
Cannot be covered with Bondo  
And that childhood hunger in her gut 
From her feline days 
Will keep her up at nights 
Tapping on window sills with her manicured nails 
Looking out 
And looking in 
The glass pane that separates her from the street.  

Paradise For $1.59  
Down these alleys of midnight retreats 
Lined with thirty-minute lovers  
And Pad Thai hawkers 
The seafood skewers pump steam  
Into the air 
Begging for a bite 
Beckoning to my lips for just one simple 
Bite that no one will know about 
While the neon showers the cement with 
Green and blue and red 
The busker dipped in light strums  
Gently the Saw Duang ripples through 
The thick lascivious muck hovering 
And mother tells child  
To put on that sad face he does so well 
He knows the one 
Like he sleeps in oil and eats insulation 
Because tonight they have knick-knacks 
And knives to sell 
The moon is boiling the streets  
Heat waves rise up to the tips of skyscrapers 
Sweat pours from pores faster than water  
Can be drunk 
And have you ever had a bird’s nest soup 
As the most beautiful woman 
With a dick bigger than stool’s leg 
Sits on your lap 
No play here 
Straight massage here 
But for a few baht more anything can happen 
There is but little time for sideshow attractions 
Tonight I am looking for nirvana 
It is said that somewhere between the reggae bars 
Blaring colors and wafting smoke 
And the knock off shoe salesmen with Niky and Conversations 
A man with no eyes can be found selling 
A different kind of gimmick 
Unlike ping pong projectiles slathered in mucus 
Or prawns drenched in spices 
Or fifteen-year-olds painted like women 
In this overload of love and lust and gluttony and greed 
A man and a woman sell tickets 
For exiting existence 
It may take a life of two 
Maybe even three 
And in the waiting room bald heads burn orange 
But once there there is no being hung up on tickets 
Nothing more than nothing 
A final goal 
In all this madness 
An afterlife that is no life at all  
One as void and clear 
As the crystals that toothless woman 
Has laid out on the table 
For sale 

A Lesson on Mortality  
He taught me how to shoot stink bugs 
With both eyes open 
And one hand in my pocket like 
Ole’ Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill’s show 
Better than him actually 
And I always knew E.E wrote that poem 
About the wrong person 
And he held my hand 
When I gutted my first trout  
That smelly thing flapping around  
All wild like 
As I pulled my pocket knife up its belly 
In a straighter line than geometry  
The innards drizzling out like blood 
From my lip that time I sliced it open 
While trying to shave 
And he came in the bathroom 
Me shaking with fear 

Thinking the belt was coming up 
But he just smiled and said 
Let me show you how to do it without 
Gaining scars 
Those wrinkles on your mother’s face 
You can tell her they are getting worse 
And when I went home  
On Sunday nights I would count the days 
One two three four 
Until I got to see him again 
Because on Fridays he let me pick candy bars 
One two three four 
Like days of the week filled with caramel 
And peanuts and sugar 
Until one Friday he did not come 
There were no BBs or guts or blood 
No candy bars 
And I sat on the curb counting seconds 
My eyes darting wild like that half dead fish 
But that bright orange Falcon van never rolled 
To a stop and I never got up 
Till mother came out with a balled fist 
And it turns out  
I sat on that curb for three days straight 
That fist chasing me in at night 
Then the news came that the man 
Was blue around the lips 
The hair stopped growing  
And he became letters upon a page 
Those stink bugs were not much for teachers 
That fish too 
The pain that comes with a busted lip 
Only hurts


Topper Barnes is an American expat currently living in Russia. After a few years of rough patches, five rehabs later, and twenty thousand dollars of student debt, he decided to say goodbye to the homeland and try his hand somewhere else. That somewhere else changes quite frequently: at times Moscow, at others Crimea. He earns his wages teaching ESL students and editing translations. When not writing or working he spends his time with his girlfriend hunting for street cats to take care of.  
This is his first feature on The Fictional Café.

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