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Peter Schwartz PETER SCHWARTZ is a poet, photographer, and writer. His poetry has been featured in The Columbia Review, Diagram, and Opium magazine. His photography has appeared online at CELLA’s Round Trip, eyeshot, and Litterbox magazine. His fiction in such places as Nano Fiction, Pindeldyboz, Prism Review, and DOGZPLOT, where he is art editor. He thanks God and O.C.D. for his extensive publishing credits.

Recent Work By Peter Schwartz

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

Dear Suzanne,

 

I never really liked you that much. The reason I randomly called you and asked you out was that my best friend at the time Philip said that I should try to get out there. I would have actually preferred to go on a date with Kim because she had big tits.

 

 

Dear Michelle,

 

Sorry I screamed that you were a slut when you told me to calm down after I threw a book across the room in reading class. You were right, I did need to calm down, but I was freaking out because Mrs. M didn’t understand that I didn’t want my father “helping” me either, but that he was an overbearing prick obsessed with my education because he had been ignored by his parents and turned to school as an escape.

 

 

Dear Nancy,

 

Sorry I hit on you in a crude and I’m sure offensive manner that night at your party. Don’t know if you heard, but I wound up in the hospital that night.

 

 

Dear Dr. Abadi,

 

It’s really fucked up that you used to get mad and complain that I drooled too much when you worked on my teeth. As an adult I realize that HAVING YOUR HAND IN MY MOUTH might have had something to do with that. By making such a big deal of my cavities you were inadvertently the cause of me getting hit by my father for the first time in public. Oh, and my new dentist said that you’re a shit dentist. He had to re-do a lot of the work you did so maybe instead of concentrating on how much I drooled you should have read a dental journal or something. Hope you’ve gotten sued since then, you fucking prick.

 

 

Dear Mrs. Greenstein,

 

I know everybody in school hated you but I loved you. You brought me Twinkies and other snacks when you tutored me after school. I had just moved from NYC and no-one was nice to me then, so your kindness meant a lot to me. Also, I heard many kids say they hated you because you ate pretzels during class and they felt like that was taunting them because they couldn’t eat during class, but I knew about your health condition, I knew why you did that. Sorry I didn’t explain this to the other students. I just wasn’t there yet, you know?

 

 

Dear Kelly,

 

I’d only known you a short time when you were diagnosed with MS. You couldn’t understand why I didn’t run for the hills, but I explained that I wasn’t that shallow. I spent 14 hours on a Greyhound bus to come see you. I bought groceries, I cooked and cleaned for you, gave you massages and soothed you during your panic attacks. I treated you better than I’ve ever treated any other human being. You paid me back by going totally cold and rejecting me after about a week. Did you love me so much you hurt me so I’d run away and not have to take care of you anymore? If so, thanks I guess, but really, shouldn’t that have been my choice?

 

 

Dear Babysitter,

 

Sorry I didn’t hug you that time you asked for one. I don’t know if you just wanted a hug or if that was the start of a long, elaborate plan to molest me, but either would have been okay because you were really hot.

 

 

Dear Liz Chang,

 

Sorry we walked all the way to Closter to see a movie and then couldn’t see it because I only had enough money to pay for me. You might not believe this, but I thought if I paid for you I’d look like some old-fashioned loser so I purposely didn’t bring any more money.

 

 

Dear Yling (the other babysitter),

 

I hope you rot in hell, you ungrateful slut. My parents paid for you to fly to America, paid for your schooling, everything. And you slept with my dad and fucked up our family as thanks. I hope you know my dad has women issues and would sleep with anyone. You weren’t even cute.

 

 

Dear Lisa,

 

I have two memories of you. One is of you giving me crabs. The other is of us playing basketball at my house. I was standing at half-court and asked what you’d do if I got the ball in from there. You said your body would be mine for the night and goddamn if I didn’t sink that shot. I felt like such a winner and loved when you asked me suck or fuck as I started to claim my prize. I guess these two memories balance each other out.

 

 

Dear Csaba,

 

Sorry I let Terrence Bates convince me I should fight you. He was also responsible for my only other high school fight, with John Larson. If it’s any consolation, you were much tougher than me and would have kicked my ass if Mr. Timmy the woodshop teacher hadn’t jumped in. That’s why I blindsided you like that, I knew I had no chance.

 

 

Dear Cousin Thomas,

 

I promise to never tell anyone we showed each other our penises as kids. I know you’re a big deal in the Coast Guard and that they probably frown on such behavior.

 

 

Dear Amanda,

 

Sorry for smacking you across the face that time at my birthday party. I had been drinking long before anyone got there and drunkenly remembered how you blackmailed me into letting you come even though we were broken up. And well, you know the rest. If I could do it all over again, I would marry you this time. I’ve never met a woman who I’ve been even half as attracted to as I was to you.

 

 

Dear Jennifer,

Why’d you sleep with me and then tell Amanda? I slept with Christine too and yeah she was kind of fat and ugly, but at least she knew how to keep her mouth shut!

 

 

Dear Uncle Arthur,

I know you’re dead now and it’s bad to speak ill of the dead and all, but man, I can’t believe you stole my boombox after my mother, your own sister, let you stay at our house. Even your crime buddy thought that was scummy and mailed us some of the stuff back (which I guess he stole from you), but I never did get that boombox back.

 

 

Dear Mets,

As a boy I went to one of your games and not one of you would give me an autograph. As the day wore on I asked photographers, batboys, concession stand workers, etc. for their signatures too but got nothing. What’s wrong with you assholes? Don’t you realize that crap can be really important to impressionable young boys? I wasn’t mocking you, I really wanted you to sign my stupid program.

 

 

Dear Eddie Malone,

God, I miss you. You’re the funniest person I’ve ever met. You had no inhibitions whatsoever when I knew you and I’ve aspired to that ever since. I didn’t and still don’t care that you did cocaine and Heather broke up with you. Truthfully, she was kind of weird anyway.

 

 

Dear Elissa,

Thanks for visiting me in the mental institution and bringing me a Bart Simpson doll. Susan told me that you cheated on me many times and it’s a little fucked up that you told me not to make art because that was “your thing,” but that was nice of you to visit. Besides, not to be a prick, but I’m actually a real artist now, and well, you’re probably not.

 

 

Dear Kazoo,

You were the best miniature schnauzer in the world. When they told me that you got hit by a car and that my dad and a police officer suffocated you in a trashbag, part of me died too. I used to love putting on your little red and black sweater and taking you for walks after a big snowstorm. You and I were the whole world during those moments.

 

 

Dear Grandpa Schwartz,

I doubt I ever told you I loved you unless my parents told me to say it to you which probably would have sounded forced and robotic, but I want you to know I keep a picture of you taped to the inside of my bathroom cabinet. It seems like nobody in the family (especially your wife) gave you much respect because you worked most of your life in a men’s clothing shop. But you know what? Fuck them. Fuck anyone who says a single bad word about you. You were kind. Maybe they don’t respect that, but I do.

 

 

Dear Other Dog (I forget your name),

They told me you jumped out of the window of our Chevy Citation one day. If that’s true, way to go. If I was an animal who could survive anywhere, believe me, I would have been right behind you.

 

 

Dear Grandpa Gaffney,

Thanks for reading to me in a rocking chair for all those hours. I don’t remember them, but mom swears that’s what we used to do. I like to think you’d be proud of me even though I can’t support myself.

 

 

Dear Aunt Barbara,

I was flattered at the time but it’s kind of fucked up that you taunted your husband by saying what a good kisser I was when all we ever did was peck. I think you might have boundary issues.

 

 

Dear Allen Ginsberg,

You’re by far the most overrated poet of all time and when I saw you at Manhattanville College you really sucked ass. That smoke-dope, eat-rope, smoke-dope stuff was embarrassing. I’ll never understand why the world doesn’t care that you were a pedophile. If you were alive and tried that shit now I would kill you in your sleep.

 

 

Dear Birthday Clown,

I know you were just doing your job but it mortified me when you pulled out that scarf and “my” underwear was on it. I wanted to scream that that was NOT my underwear but the silence had already overtaken me by then.

 

 

Dear Kibbutznik,

That was fucked up when you asked if I was a mute, if I understood English. Why did you ask that? Because I wasn’t jumping fast enough as you barked orders? You may live on a kibbutz but you sure don’t understand the ideology behind one, you sad prick. I have a degree in Literature with a minor in Creative Writing, thank you very much.

 

 

Dear Coach Clancy,

I can’t believe you told me to beat up anyone that got too close to me. Not very responsible adult behavior there, pal. And I think being a goalie actually ruined me. The pressure to defend and then the burning self-recrimination after I let a ball go by me, especially one I knew I should have saved, that feeling still haunts me over 20 years later.

 

 

Dear Kevin,

You always acted like this big tough guy but then you had your friend fight me instead of doing the dirty work yourself. Pretty pussy, you know? And why did you do it? Because Ed’s sister told you I read your diary. How do you think she knew I read it, you idiot? She read it too! I guess she was suspect anyway though, she said I raped her. I’ve never raped anybody.

 

 

Dear Moira,

I was totally humiliated when after the night my mom tried to commit suicide you asked if I was okay in school the next day. You knew about it because your mom was a volunteer EMT. Isn’t that some kind of breech of confidentiality? I know you asked because you cared, but I wish you didn’t.

 

 

Dear Social Worker,

I don’t know how I wound up with you trying to diagnose my autism and not a psychologist or psychiatrist but you know, you were a real bitch. You were almost immediately hostile, questioning why I even felt the need for a diagnosis and you totally judged me for not being employed which is obviously very unprofessional. I may be nothing in your world, but you’re even less in mine. Where are you published? What galleries have you shown your artwork in?

 

 

Dear Jeff,

I’ve demonized you badly enough not to miss you but, well, who am I kidding, I miss you. Sorry I told mom that you were the one to put the batteries in her gas tank. I have no idea what I did to deserve your silence but understand, I’ve cut off many people who probably didn’t deserve to be cut off in my life too. Peace.

 

 

Dear Lucian,

Holy shit. I had no idea I had to clean the tank. This sounds so stupid but I thought that’s what the filter was for. Sorry, you deserved better. RIP.

 

 

Dear Barry,

Thanks for being the father I never had even though you’re younger than me and it’s probably creepy to say that.

 

 

Dear Dad,

Are you dead yet?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

I’ve been noticing with greater and greater alarm that atheism is getting more and more popular in literary and academic circles. In fact, the majority of writers and scholars believe that anyone who believes in God must be naive and stupid. You aren’t smart enough, aren’t sophisticated enough to realize that God doesn’t exist and that life is pretty much shit. As the old saying goes, misery loves company. Now I don’t claim to be some highfalutin intellectual (fingers corn cob pipe thoughtfully for effect) but my great grand-daddy left me with at least this much sense: anything that makes you miserable ain’t all that good.

What an assumption! I know, right? I’m just as sure that all atheists aren’t miserable as I am that all believers aren’t happy. However, I can honestly say from experience that many (not all) of my atheist friends seem to wear their unhappiness like a badge. They consider their terrible lots in life to be irrefutable proof of how “real” they are. This is an old idea really, suffering being equated with authenticity. As a survivor of many forms and flavors of abuse, I personally think there is nothing noble about suffering, especially when it’s self-induced. It just sucks.

I see the core of this issue as being about the concept of newness, modernity. The idea of God is ancient, so it’s not cool anymore. Cool or not, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to it. At some point in time if I shit on a canvas I might have gotten a gallery show because it was new, but that wouldn’t mean I’m a better artist than someone who could actually paint. For God’s sake people, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you believe there are some things that endure the test of time than who better than the G-O-D?

The literary and academic worlds are supposed to be a haven, a forum for all thoughts and ideas so what’s up with all this judgment? I’ve heard intellectuals call religious people closed-minded but isn’t it just as closed-minded to say something definitely doesn’t exist as it does? I think of the professor who has the courage, yes the courage to believe in a higher power, and the subtle and maybe not-so-subtle flak he/she might take from his/her co-workers, and it makes me sick. But not too sick because like time, God heals all wounds. Awesome.

I guess this is just another case of the old pendulum swinging back the other way again. Once upon a time people were crucified for not believing, now things have reversed and the faithful are ostracized for believing. See? I could have used the word “crucified” but no, I’m not some crazy, religious nut. Nor do I think I am right. I just think God exists insomuch as you let God exist, so hey, maybe it’s a good idea to try cracking the window open a little now and then, eh? I believe in spirituality more than some bearded, old, moody, white man in the clouds, and that spirituality has organically lead me to believe that if there wasn’t some kind of divine goodwill out there, that shit would be a lot worse than it is now. If you think that makes me crazy, well then put me in a sundress, slap my ass and call me Sally, I’m crazy.

Let me just anticipate one question: How can I believe in a God, all-knowing and all-powerful, when everything is so terrible? Well, sorry to bum out your bummers folks, but things are actually pretty good. Ah, I can almost feel the screams of protest! Why look at healthcare and Iraq and the corporations and all that. Terrible situations, agreed, but guess what, it could be a lot worse. The U.S. is a culture of complaints for which I partially blame Jerry Seinfeld and his weak, Satanic little observations, as well as a sensationalist, emotion-preying media. No, the sad truth for anyone out there addicted to the victim identity is this: everything’s okay. Life is hell only insomuch as you let it be. And I really think that is a significant part of people’s problem with faith; if there is a God than woah, what do you know, things might actually be alright.

The fact is that if I were to publicly announce that things are actually okay in some of the more popular intellectual hangouts (coffee shops, bookstores, etc), I would probably be verbally abused. Why I wouldn’t be surprised if the sexual practices of my own dear, sweet mother were called into question. My own flesh and blood mother, the very woman who brought me into this precious, wonderful world. Think about that a second.