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 But 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.
Your words cause me to hope that somehow you will find someone…or someone will find you and care for you as you have cared for the unwanted cats…because you matter.
Amazing. You have made beauty out of pain.
Wonderful! So powerful! the words strike us like a punch in the face. Well done.
Powerful. Evocative. Literate. Through Topper Barnes’ poetry, we see how the deepest significances of poetry are borne of pain.
Topper your work is, to say the least, raw and provocative… I see what you describe and feel each adjective. Nicely done.
Those were just beautiful. I look forward to reading more.