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animals inside of us

i can see when you’re dreaming
underneath your skin
it’s hard to be what you were before
and harder still to be what you are now

you backed out on the cause
because the cause wasn’t the cure
you said there’s no reason in religion
and no point in being pure

but you’re not ready to sell it all
not without being sure

you said there is no movement
because a movement
doesn’t go anywhere
you said you have something
too big
too big for you to share

but in the distance
there’s a skyline
beautiful as anything can be
and there are animals inside us
who are itching to be free


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i have arms all along my tracks
the tissue that runs through magnetic strips
they don’t even call them tapes anymore
the bouncing lights that let us know
if things are gonna be alright
if what we were really trying to say
would come across
the sounds that escape the atmosphere
and penetrate the night
the words that escape our lips
and write themselves in magic marker

there were lists that we made
and never wrote down
there were songs that will never mean anything else
than what they meant
when we heard them
in a car
in a field
in a time we never imagined would pass
until it did


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family tree

when we’re not sure

we’re not alone

it’s because we’re not

it’s your hand

it’s my heart

i have seen you disappear

in front of my eyes

only to reappear somewhere else entirely

the stars

and the bones of the universe


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wish fulfillment

the movement

of drunken butterflies


a ballet on bar stools

and a symphony in my head

if i could choose direction

i would probably pick myself up

but really

i would only let you down

so i may as well stay here

and watch

as the beer lights glance of your wings

and make even the most distant stars

seem close


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on the back of her hand is where the marker goes

on the back of her hand

is where the marker goes

after she’s scrubbed

as many of the names they called her

off of her body

in the 3rd floor bathroom

where she can be alone

she writes over the ones

that won’t come off


it says what it means

to mean something

small enough

that you really have to look

to see what’s written


it comes from a place that is so much her

that it is everybody

it is all of us

in the bathroom stalls

and the whitewash halls

in the bedroom alone

even when there’s someone there


i want to be seen

she thinks

but only by people

who are willing to get close enough

to see what’s really there


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friday night is for lovers like us

friday night
is for lovers like us
who hold up 2am candles
to the palm of our hand
just to prove
that we can still feel

friday night
is for lovers like us
who tear through the horizon
ripped in half
like the pages of the letter
i have been trying to write to you

friday night
is for lovers like us
breathing so fast
that our breath could never catch up
running in circles
that look like straight lines

friday night
is for lovers like us
who are here alone
reading by moonlight
writing in blood
because we feel too much and care too little

friday night
is for lovers like us
who know there’s a way
even though we can’t see it
even though it can’t see us
even though we’re looking

right at each other


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the speed at which i travel :: first thirty pages



chapter one

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past – William Faulkner

I used to think the best place to start was at the end. I mean, if you know how it all ends it makes the other parts easier to understand, right?

Maybe it was my dad. Maybe he got me thinking this way. He was always deconstructing things in his workshop, trying to show me how everything comes apart—clocks, cars, even books. I guess he did it so I would learn how to put things back together. He didn’t actually say that. Dad never was much for pointing out the obvious—even if it wasn’t obvious to anyone but himself. But the more I’m confronted by nature, which is my word for god or life or the way things go, the more I understand why he didn’t always fill in the blanks. The blanks get filled in on their own.

Dad left me—left my mom and me—with a lot of blanks. And I tried unsuccessfully for seven years to fill them in. Then out of nowhere they began filling themselves in. Filling in more rapidly than I could have imagined until there was no space left, and I found myself wishing for those blanks to come back.

So, do I begin at the end? No. And I say this with as much breath as I can ­– No. I won’t end at the end, either. Because there is no end. Once you get there you’ll see what I mean. The word past, the word future­­­­­—they’re directions, not destinations. They’re not real. Somebody can tell you to go left or right, but there is no actual place called left or right. There’s no actual place called past or future, either. The directions change depending on where you’re coming from, depending on where you stand. And all the signs and directions always lead to the same place, anyway–—the present. It’s the only place we ever end up, no matter what direction we take.

So, I’ll begin here. Before I knew that I could travel through history. Before I knew that my girlfriend would disappear in front of my eyes and there would be very little I could do about it. Before I knew what I had to give up, in order to hold on. Maybe not the very beginning—but the beginning of the present, at least.

I’m walking home through the Elysium, Iowa town square. This town is old. And there are all sorts of reminders of that: life size replicas of Elysium’s hometown heroes standing like sentinels along the perimeter of the square, the endless plaques commemorating everything from the first tooth pulled to the first streetlight to the battles that took place before and after the Civil War. I guess there’s a point, but I don’t really get it. The one bonus is that they keep everything really nice because of it. They get all sorts of money to make it keep looking beautiful—the kind of beautiful it was back then. I wonder to myself if it was always this beautiful, this perfect. Probably not.

My ancestors have their own share of plaques and statues. I should be proud, I guess. But really it just serves to highlight how much of a loser I truly am. Maybe if my family—the Indianas—weren’t such a prominent force in Elysium history there wouldn’t have been such a spotlight on my father’s failure. And my own. We’ve carried on the tradition of famous Indiana’s by carving out our own brand of fame—infamy. My dad and I have turned the epic stage of Indiana family history into a freak show. His infamy was that he bailed—mine is that I stayed.

And that’s all I can think about as I serpentine through the Sunday stragglers stopping to talk with each other on the square—that’s all I can ever think about when I pass by the people in this town. I can hear it even now even with my music on, drowning out the sounds. I hear the whispers from everyone—the power walkers zigzagging like spastic robots along the paths, the burners holding court in the gazebo at the center of the square and the parents chasing their kids and their lapdogs and their laptops. There’s that Indiana freak, I can feel them say. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The only person who acknowledges me as I meander through the square is Ed Johnson, the mailman. He was a friend of my father’s, or at least the only person I’d ever see at the house.

My black hoodie’s pulled over my head, half covering my face. I usually don’t care. I can forget about my neurotic, anti-social tendencies when I’m with Sam, but without her, I can’t stand the fact that other people are all over the place looking at me, wondering what I’m thinking or where I’m going. I wonder when he’s gonna finally pop? I can almost hear them say. Or sometimes it’s that they don’t notice me at all—that’s almost worse.

It doesn’t usually get this bad. And the soundtrack I’m connected to right now helps a little. I’m listening to my “world gone wrong” playlist through my black earbuds—I refuse to use the white ones. This my default digital mix tape whenever Sam’s gone for more than twenty-four hours. And so far it’s been ninety-eight hours and sixteen minutes. Roughly.

She tried to get her Dad to take me. But he still hasn’t warmed up to me, yet—then again it has only been a year. Maybe by the time the polar ice caps completely melt I’ll graduate to an actual hello whenever he sees me. Not just a tepid nod.

Sam and I officially met last summer at the River County Fair. I’d seen her a few weeks before and even a couple times in between. She’d just moved from somewhere in Mississippi and it was hard to miss a newcomer in a town of five thousand, especially one like Sam. I think she saw me too.

There was all the talk-talk-talk from the Elysium community about our new sheriff and his daughter, quickly followed by the rumors that inevitably start to circulate. Apparently, Sam’s mother had died the previous year.

Questionable circumstances around her death… the gossip would go. They needed to make a fresh start….  A quiet place like River County is a better place to be…. I’d overhear all this from the town storks in their loud whispers between aisles of the supermarket. I hear she doesn’t talk much, the girl—my Betty called her odd. It must be difficult…

Sam was more beautiful than anyone in town but she had something else about her. Hidden to most, yet obvious to me. She had something inside her bottomless, brown eyes. I could see it, because it looked familiar. Maybe it’s loss. Maybe grief. Or maybe something else entirely. Whatever it was, I think it kept anyone from engaging her beyond, “Hi, what’s your name?” The same way it kept everyone in my life from digging beneath my surface. It also didn’t hurt that her father was the new sheriff of the county. That tended to keep most everyone at a safe distance. I figure, from my own experience, that’s exactly what she wanted.

She approached me that morning at the fair, walked right up to where I was sitting beneath the bleachers. I was in my own world, where I was most of the time—camped alone under the metal planks—watching the demolition derby. Since I can remember I’ve lusted after being a part of the derby. Hearing the crunch of the cars as they crash into each other, watching with anticipation as they spin out across the dirt and dust. Sadly, they lifted the entrance age a couple years ago from sixteen to eighteen. The appropriately named, Eddie Hazard—fifteen at the time—got killed by a flying fender. He wasn’t even in a car, just part of a pit crew. Sometimes rules don’t make sense. Sometimes they’re only there to make people feel better about things they can’t control.

“Hey,” she said, almost as if it were a dare. “Are you one too?”

She caught me by surprise and I reflexively jumped up. “What?” I stuttered as I smacked my head on the aluminum bench above. I almost blacked out and it was everything I could do not to double over and dance around from the pain.

“Sorry, about that…” she said, cringing.

“No… it’s okay.” I reeled from the blow and it took me a second to get something out. “What… what did you say?”

She came close to me and touched my head. She acted like she wasn’t, but I could tell she was nervous. “An outcast. Are you an outcast?”

“Most of the time,” I mumbled. “I guess.”

“Well, good. I’m an outcast, too.” She straightened up. “So, I suppose it’s okay for us to hang out.” Sam paused. “If that’s okay with you, that is…”

She looked as if she was waiting for me to say something.

“Uh…yeah,” I stammered.

I’m sure my head was bleeding, but I pretended it didn’t exist.

Sam eased down onto the dirty cardboard plank I’d been sitting on. She didn’t even bother trying to whisk off the dust. After a whirling moment of pain and dizziness I collected myself and sat down beside her. I’m not sure we said anything for the next hour. We just sat there watching the junk cars spin around the track—big clumps of crumpled aluminum foil on wheels, painted and dirty and crashing into each other. I thought about how this whole demolition derby is how life on Earth would look to an alien watching us from high above. But most of all I thought about Sam, how our hands would slip on the dusty cardboard, fingers making contact and then coming apart. And how after a while we just let them touch, without needing to pull apart at all.

* * *

I weave my way through the throng and into one of the many narrow bands of alleyways that connects the square to everything else. I actually love this town, despite its failure to take much note of me. That’s the sad part: I’m the outcast of the town, but I still want to be a part of it. I don’t know why, but I do. I take the D Street Extension past Sam’s house on my way home. Her house is one of those old Victorian numbers, over a hundred years old, with turrets and a red slate roof. Most of the Victorian’s were all built in the nineteenth century with local stone from Old Man Johnson’s Quarry. It’s out of my way, but I want to peek—just to make sure she didn’t get home earlier than expected. She didn’t.

I retrace my steps back down D Street and cut across the bowling alley parking lot onto C street, the block behind mine. I see the faded lavender blinds of Mrs. Crumpet’s parlor window open and catch her leering at me before she has time to shut them again. I jump the fence from the alleyway behind our house and go around to the side door, forgetting completely not to let it slam behind me.

“Dammit,” I say under my breath.

“Gary Erasmus Indiana! Why?” A voice echoes from the kitchen as a pot is dropped into the metal sink for emphasis. “That door is going to shatter and you’ll pay for it. With what I don’t know—but you’ll pay for it.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

I make my way to the stairs hoping for a clean getaway.

“Gary,” she calls. “Before you go upstairs—and do whatever it is you do—I need you to go out to the garage. I ran into Dr. Handler at the Nursery and he’s bringing by some fertilizer for the garden.”

I roll my eyes. Handler.

“Take those boxes you’ve had in there—all that junk you said you needed to save—and put it all neatly in the… workshop.” Her voice lilts a little when she says workshop—mostly because it’s my Dad’s workshop. Or it was, at least.

“After dinner, Mom,” I shout, continuing up the stairs.

“No, Gary,” she demands, leaving no room for debate. “You’ll do it now,”

With a breathy sigh and lumbering, despondent steps I make my way back down and out—through the as-yet-unbroken sliding glass door.

I just wanted a little respite, I silently complain. Is that too much to ask for on a Sunday?

And now Handler’s coming over. —and that says a lot. He obviously has something for my mom. And even though I know she won’t bite, the fact that he puts it out there is enough to make me nauseous. The truth is she’s been acting weird lately and he’s been coming up in conversation. I guess the warning signs are there.

“I said neatly,” she adds.

“Whatever,” I say under my breath. I almost slam the sliding glass again, but reflexively slip my fingers into the jam before it closes. Owww! I let out a silent cry not wanting her to berate me yet again. I catch my reflection in the glass as I try to reel in the pain. It startles me. For a second I don’t see my image in the glass—I see my father’s.

Nursing my wounded appendage, I continue out to his old workshop. It’s cluttered and dim, it’s still his space though. His desk, his books, his rusty lamp. I prop myself up against the doorframe, hands hiding in my pockets, and stare into the one room in the world where I can still pretend that he’s alive.


chapter two

Dad gave me my first moleskine journal when I was eight. Small and black, with unlined paper, it was the kind he always carried with him.

“Most things,” he once said, “that seem so tangled and confused when they’re in your head, become a lot easier to understand when you put them down on paper.”

He sounded like he knew what he was talking about. But I don’t know, I’m not sure how much better I understand the things I write down. But it does at least help with getting them out of my head. These days I carry my notebook wherever I go as if it were an organ or a limb, a part of me that I can’t live without. It’s the only thing I always have with me, no matter what—other than my father’s pocketknife.

On the inside cover of the first journal he gave me there’s a place where it says this journal belongs to: (insert your name). Instead of my name he penciled in a little drawing, almost as if it were a logo. It’s a rose with a chain and a rope criss-crossing it from either side. It almost looks like a religious icon but he’s not that type. He’s mystical, but not religious. When I asked him what the drawing meant he said he wasn’t sure, but he knew it meant something. Each time I started a new journal I put the drawing in the same place, where my name would normally go. Out of habit I guess. Or maybe just out of superstition.

His journals are filled with drawings and equations and some sort of weird math language I never understood. Sometimes I wonder if it was even a real language he wrote in, or if he was just trying to hide something. Or if he was just nutty. It kind of looks like something you’d find in the cell of a lunatic. He was clearly working on something important—important to him at least. You can tell by the deep marks on the pages, the ink bleeding through, that he was in a rush. It’s like he was in a race against time. How many hours did he spend out here, in summer or winter, without air conditioning or heat? Too many, my mom would say.

“What are you doing in there, Nathan?” I remember overhearing on more than one occasion. “What do all these thing even mean? Is it really more important than us—than me?”

“There is nothing that means more to me than you and Gary,” I heard him say. “Everything I’m doing is for you. Please believe me.”

To my mom’s credit, she always did—still does, I think—despite how he made his exit.

A few years ago I found a key to what must have been the code that he wrote in, in one of his notebooks:

I loved looking at the scribbles and lines, the alien language. If I’d had friends I would have learned it, used it to pass notes in class or leave messages on mirrors and mailboxes. But I didn’t have many friends. And nothing I knew seemed important enough to keep secret.

I never bothered to go back through his journals and figure it out. I had already poured through them all and I just didn’t have the will to go back and revisit them. Maybe I was afraid at what I’d find or wouldn’t find. Maybe I was afraid that it would just prove that he really was a lunatic. Sometimes it’s best to maintain a little distance from the truth. My memory of him—the story I have in my head—is the one I want to keep. The last thing I want to do is let reality get in the way of my fantasy. My fantasy is all I have left to hold onto—at least when it comes to him.

I began using my journals to make sketches that were more or less like cartoons or comics. I think it was around the time he disappeared—I began putting words along with the sketches. They started as random thoughts, fantasies. At some point they turned into poetry. Not like the rhyming crap you normally hear but like thoughts that are in your head, that seem to have no relation to each other, yet they walk around holding hands like they’re the best of friends. I had no idea what they meant at the time and I still don’t know what most of them mean. I always felt like there was a meaning—I just had to find it.

After I met Sam, who is more or less my girlfriend—I don’t mean less, I mean that she is somehow more than just a girlfriend—I worked up the courage to show her one of my older journals. She asked if I could write something to her.

“Uh, I guess so,” I said tentatively.

It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just that I was, you know, kind of embarrassed.

She said after that first one I wrote to her that she knew—knew that we’d always be together. So I began writing to her every day—in part because I wanted that to be true. She says it’s almost as if she doesn’t even have to read them: “they’re already in my head by the time I look at the page.” That’s the best thing anyone’s ever said to me.

Nearly all of what I write now is in journal entry form. They’re mostly to Sam. I guess they’re to myself too, but it’s easier somehow if I just say I’m writing them to her.

* * *

I carry the load from the garage over to my dad’s old workshop. I look at all the boxes, filled with action figures that I haven’t played with in ages—books, journals, trophies, aborted science projects, old clothes, auto parts—my collected works. I just don’t see a good reason why any of it needs to go. It all holds so much. Much more than I’ve had time to figure out at this early stage of my life.

I justify this in my head as I open the weathered door to the workshop and turn on the overhead light. It blinks on and then there’s a loud pop as the bulb shatters all over the cement floor.

“Crap,” I say out loud. One more thing I’ll have to clean up.

I survey the room. I haven’t been in here lately—not much in the last year actually. I used to be in here all the time, when my dad was sill around, and even after. My mom hasn’t set foot in here. Too many memories I guess. Not enough for me. That’s the main difference between us—in how my mom and I have dealt—she wants to get rid of everything and all I want to do is hold on. We’ve seemed to make our compromises. We do about as good you could expect.

The late morning light is trying to break through the harvest of dust and cobwebs that line the window above his workbench. It doesn’t look much different than it did when he still used it, except there was always something new he was working on that was cluttering up the table. Or a fresh notebook he’d be tearing into. There was always a problem to be solved—or a problem to be created so that it could be solved. Now it’s just empty.

I look at the stack of boxes occupying the back wall of the workshop and realize that if I’m gonna fit my things in here I should probably reconfigure them. They smell musty and old, like antiques from another lifetime—not just seven years ago. I stack them as neatly as I can, but they’re bent and crumbling, and the tower leans precariously. As I’m lifting the final box to the top, the molded, moth-eaten bottom gives out, emptying a dozen of his old black journals onto my feet and the dusty floor. I sit down, silently curse my fate, and grab an open journal.

I pick up another, with a slightly more faded cover, and thumb through the pages: it’s more gibberish, more nonsense. Easier to understand when you get it down on paper, huh? I silently curse my father’s penmanship. Easier for you, maybe. I’m about to close the journal when I notice one of the pages, yellowed and slightly larger than the rest, sticking out a fraction of an inch. It doesn’t fit neatly, almost seems like it was torn from somewhere else and slid in, but when I try and pull it out, I can’t. It’s attached. I open the journal to the page—it’s unlike any of his journal entries that I’ve seen. No codes or diagrams. No gibberish. I’ve poured through all of them by now, but this one I don’t remember. At the top it says:

The five what? I wonder.

In the middle of the page is a list of five names and initials:

“What the frack…” I say out loud, blinking my eyes as if that’ll make a difference.

Samantha Bradley.

Samantha—Sam—my Sam.

I don’t understand. Slow down, I tell myself.

It’s my dad’s writing. That’s definite.

So he wrote Sam’s name in his journal.

But she only moved here a little over a year ago and this journal’s from August 18th, 1983. That’s almost thirty years ago. My dad was seventeen—Sam was… negative twelve.

What the hell is this?

I put Sam to the left for a second and reread the other names. I don’t know Sally Hooper, but Ed Johnson—he’s the mailman—has been for thirty years.

Then it says “the three” with three sets of initials written below:

And then there’s the coup-de-gras—a drawing—the same drawing that he wrote in my journal, where my name should have been:

Who is Gary? Good question.

* * *

 “Gary, what are you doing? You’ve been out here for two hours and it’s worse than it was before.”

My dad’s journals are scattered across the floor. I’ve been pouring through the ones in that moldy box trying to find something—anything—that might tell me what the hell is going on. There’s no other page I can find that has anything in English, like the one I just found.

Samantha Bradley? Who is Gary? The Five, The Three and The One? This is like a bad episode of Lost.

“Gary!” my mom shouts.

I startle out of my drunken haze.

“Uh… I found something,” I say tentatively, feeling light-headed. “I found Sam’s name in one of Dad’s journals. I found my name…” I trail off, holding it up so she can see.

She looks at me uneasy, and then around the workshop. This is hard for her—just being in here.

“Honey, your father had all kinds of stuff I’m sure he wrote to you…” she sighs uncomfortably.

“But it was from 1983,” I argue, holding it up for her to see.

She takes the journal, and closes it without looking. “Gary, I know you like to go through these things. I know we do things… differently. But please.” She looks at me with mounting apprehension, “Let’s just finish up and get out of here, okay?” She hands me back the closed moleskin. She thinks I’m crazy.

I look down at the messy sprawl. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I am blowing this out of proportion. Maybe it does make sense in some other context or it’s just a random accident. I fold up the paper with Sam’s name, with my name, and put it into my back pocket. There must be hundreds of these journals and I’ve read through a lot of them over the last seven years and didn’t find anything else in all that time. Maybe I wanted to find this—wanted something else my mind could latch onto—something to keep at least his memory alive.

“Sorry, Mom,” I say as I start to pile up the journals on the floor. “I’ll be finished soon.”

She looks at me and then around the room once more, sighing. “Okay, but be quick. We have the Fesslers back-to-school barbecue in an hour.”

Before the protest can leave my lips she puts her hand up.

“Not another word. You can go and leave, but you are going.”


chapter three

“I thought you said I could go and leave.”

My mom is leading me back up the Fesslers’ front steps. I’d almost escaped.

“I obviously didn’t mean five minutes after you arrived.”

This is like my worst nightmare squared. At least when I’m walking around town I don’t have to actually talk to anyone. Not only do you have to interact with people at these things but they want to know everything you’re doing—what you have planned, where you’ve been, what you’re gonna do with your life. Except they don’t really want to know—they only pretend they do.

“It is 12:45 right now,” my mom synchronizes her watch like she’s a Navy Seal. “At exactly 1:30, not one minute before, you may leave if you absolutely have to. However, you must speak to at least three different people—that’s the rule. And not just hello—but an actual conversation.”

She knows that I would find someplace to hide for the next forty-five minutes if she left that last part out.

“Why are you doing this to me?” I plead.

“What do you mean doing this to you. Could it hurt to be a little social? All your friends are here—Skip Sims, Devon Cutler, James Mathers—you’ve gone to school with them since kindergarten.”

“Let’s just say we’ve went different ways, mom.” Not too long after kindergarten as a matter of fact.

“Oh, stop,” she says dismissively. “You’re such a snob.”

Snob! I remark silently. Do you know these people?

“Esme!” a woman across the patio exclaims and then runs towards us almost taking out a family of four grouped together by the pool.

“Hi Joan,” my mother says, biting down.

Joan Armitage is the only person in town my mom can’t seem to stand.

“Be nice now, Mom,” I whisper sarcastically.

She elbows me, “Hush.”

I break off and let them catch up, mostly because I know my mom doesn’t want me to leave them alone. Serves her right, I think. I hover over the cheese dip for five minutes and finger the cauliflower conspicuously. After that I make my way inside to find the bathroom—that’ll burn a good ten minutes.

Mr. Fessler, our gracious host, owns the Toyota dealership in town. He has a wall of plaques for different regional and national awards lining the wall alongside pictures of his family. Dean Fessler is a grade above me, and captain of the football team, honor student and all around jerk wad. I bet Dean could fill every wall of the house with his achievements, so it strikes me as odd that I don’t see any of his accolades displayed. They must be in the trophy room, I silently mock. But as I inspect the family photos, I can’t find him anywhere. I don’t understand. Genie, the hot younger sister, and Jason, the skater, are in almost every one. Where the hell is he? I wonder. To good for his own family?

“I can’t believe how much you all grow,” I hear a voice address me from behind.

I turn around to see Mrs. Fessler in a brightly colored caftan draping her collected mass, holding a margarita in one hand and the garage door opener in the other.

“Uh,” I mutter taken by surprise. “Yes, you too,” I add unceremoniously.

“Ahh, well…” She gives me a look of confusion mixed with revulsion.

“I meant, we all grow up,” I attempt.

“Yes, well,” she edges herself away. “I have to go get something from the garage,” she turns and heads down the hall.

This is why I shouldn’t be at these type of events. I reflect.

“Wait,” I call to her.

She turns apprehensively to face me, without breaking her stride.

“Where are all the pictures of Dean?” I ask, pointing at the wall.

“Who’s Dean?” She gives me a confused glare.

“Dean Fessler, Captain of the football team—your son,” I say, wondering how drunk she actually is.

“I don’t know anyone named Dean,” she gives me on more curious glare, as if to say this boy is not all right, and then quickly escapes through a door at the end of the hall.

The thing is, I’m starting to think she’s right.

I make my way to the bathroom, for real this time, and splash cold water on my face. I stare at myself in the mirror.

“Are you losing it, dude?” I ask my reflection.

There’s no response, which I take as a good sign, so I dry my hands and make my way back out into the throng. Forty-five minutes or not, I have to get the hell out of here. I make my way out to the sea of partygoers. They’ve all been at the drink for a while now and it almost seems like they’re on the deck of a ship, swaying with the current. My mom is still engaged in a conversation with Joan and you can tell she’d do anything to get the hell out of it. She’s got a white-knuckle grip on the chaise lounge to her left and the other hand holding onto her drink for dear life. I summon up my skills and move in for the offensive.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Armitage,” I cut in.

“Joan, dear,” she corrects me with a wink that is just to the left of appropriate.

“Joan,” I say, and then turn to my mom. “We have that thing we have to go do.” I give her a vague nod.

My mom looks at me, about to argue, and then looks back at Joan. “Oh yes,” she manages. “Is it already…” she looks at her watch. “1:15!” she exclaims. “Thank you for reminding me, Gary.” she turns back to Joan. “So good to catch up, Joanie. We’ll see each other soon.”

I wonder if it’s just me that picks up on the way she bit down on that last sentence as if she was swallowing something too big to ingest.

“We simply have to…” Joan continues.

But my mom turns and grabs my arm, leading me away from the conversation before it can continue, waving her hand frantically as Joan continues to talk—apparently unperturbed by the lack of someone to talk with.

“Mom,” I ask when we’re safely on our way home.

“Yes, Gary.” she’s still pretending she’s sore with me, even though I know she wanted to get out of there as bad as I did.

“Do you remember Dean Fessler?”

“Of course,” she says.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

“No,” she corrects herself, “Wait… I thought his name was Jason. The boy who’s always zipping around on his skateboard with the shaggy hair?”

“That’s his younger brother,” I continue. “Dean is the football player, the honor student. He’s a senior. We used to play baseball together in 3rd grade…”

“The Fesslers only have one boy, Gary. Are you sure it isn’t a cousin your remembering?”

“It isn’t a cousin. It’s Dean Fessler!” I exclaim. “Dean Fessler, the most popular kid in school. The most popular kid anywhere,” I’m getting a little agitated and I can see my mom stealing glances from the road, becoming a little uncomfortable. “He was just in the paper two weeks ago, after he signed to ISU.”

I look at her expecting that to ring a bell. She had made such a big deal about it to me that morning at breakfast.

“Honey,” she shifts her eyes from the road to look at me. “Is this about your father—did looking through his boxes stir something,” she asks with a delicate touch. “You can talk to me about anything—you know that sweetie pie.”

What is going on here? I start to wonder if I’m in one of those lucid dreams you hear about. The kinds that make you sure you’re awake—and then BOOM—out of nowhere it ends and everything goes back to normal. Please let this be a dream. I don’t want to be crazy.

“Yeah,” I mutter, not wanting to make her any more worried than she is. “I think I just need to rest or something.”

“Okay, honey,” she puts her hand on my shoulder. “I should have listened to you when you said you didn’t want to go the party,” she says guiltily. “I though you were just being anti-social.”

“I was,” I add not wanting her to feel bad about it. “This is something different, I don’t know.”

And then I realize how tired I am. If I can just get home and get some rest, I’ll come to my senses—I’ll see that I’m simply confusing the Fesslers with the Kesslers. I’ve been wrong before.

“I’ll be fine, mom.” I hear myself reassure her and realize I’m mostly trying to reassure myself.

* * *

My attempts at resting up in my bedroom prove futile. The more I cleared my mind the more room it made for all the questions. I flip open my laptop and open a browser window. Almost immediately, an instant message pops up on my screen:

littlelilwayne94: hey stranger. we’re getting the crew together for a new round of P&T. Count you in?

Ah yes, P&T. As in Poets and Thieves, an online game I used to play when I was younger. Alright, maybe it was nine months ago. It’s kind of like Dungeons and Dragons meets Where’s Waldo—a kind of Internet treasure hunt, that extends into the real world from time to time. You have to figure out clues and piece together a narrative that only occasionally leads to a satisfying conclusion. But it’s the chase that’s fun. I quit not long after Sam and I started hanging out and Wayne and the rest of the crew have been hounding me to play ever since. I was good at making the clues and the narrative.

scaryindiana96: hey, wayne. i’m sorry. i have a lot going on. maybe later in the year.

littlelilwayne94: L

I close the chat window and set my status to AWAY. Turning to my browser I type in: Dean Fessler + Elysium.


That’s impossible, he is the most famous person in Elysium right now. I refresh the page. Still nothing. I go to the Des Moines Register website, the paper my mom was talking about a couple weeks ago, with the article about Dean. I remember the article taking up half the sport’s page. It’s gotta be archived in here. I look through every paper for the last six weeks.


I know I’m not wrong. Maybe Google’s having a bad day. Then I have an odd, sinking feeling. I go to my bookshelf and take down the Elysium High School yearbook. I open it up and scan backwards through the Fs—Franklin, Forrester, Finnegan, Farnsworth.

What? I go to the football team page, he’s gotta be in there.

Nothing—no Fessler.

I look through last year’s yearbook and the year before.


I feel lightheaded again, and almost pass out before I realize I’m not breathing. I gulp for air and get my bearings back. Think slowly, I tell myself again.

This is highly unusual, I reason, hands flat on the top of my desk. But there has got to be an explanation.

I need to take a shower—to get some space. I need to stop thinking for five minutes. Maybe it will just go away on it’s own. I pull my shirt over my head then slip my jeans off. Something falls onto the floor and I notice it’s the folded up page from the journal. I brought the journal up to my room, but took out the page. I unfold it, and look over the first part.

Then I register the first name on the list—the initials—D.F.

Dean Fessler? A shot goes up my spine and a white wave washes over me and I feel faint—really faint. I try breathing in and out rapidly, but it’s no use. I feel like I’m dying. Maybe I am.  Maybe that’s what this is. Then I run to the bathroom and watch my last two meals make their way out of me and into the toilet. Mostly into the toilet.

chapter four

A shaft of afternoon sun breaks through my window and wakes me up. I startle from a dream. I saw myself jumping from a bridge. The same bridge I saw my father leap from when I was ten. The same bridge my grandparents’ car veered off of, sending them to their death. What they were doing driving on an old train bridge, in the first place, is beyond me. But in my dream—my dead grandparents were there in the water—they were trying to get me to jump.

Technically, I guess, it was more of a nightmare than a dream.

I could have sworn there was something about Sam in there, but I forget exactly what it was—I always forget the most interesting part of my dreams.

I look at the clock: 3:59. I’ve been out for two hours. I feel like a new man—or at least a new boy. I pick up my phone from the charger on my nightstand and punch in a text to Sam.





I shake off the dream and make my way down to the kitchen, hungry.

“Well, you look much better,” she says brightly.

“Yeah,” I assent. “I just needed to get all of that out.”

“Nerves,” she agrees. “There’s a lot happening—school—and you always get befuddled whenever Sam is gone for more than an hour.”

I laugh and shake my head. Just the mention of her name washes away my fever dream and my earlier episode.

“She gets back tonight, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah, but late.”

Sam—I think. I wish I could see her. Somehow I know that would make everything better.

“At least you know who she is,” I joke.

“Yes,” she says shaking her head. “She’s hard to forget.”

“You’re telling me.”

“I found this on your floor,” she holds up the page from the journal. “This really isn’t anything to get bent out of shape by. Your dad was always writing out his dreams and all sorts of stuff that made no sense at all. Besides Samantha Bradley is a common name.”

I nod my head even though I hadn’t seen any mention of his dreams before, while I grab a cookie from the jar. Chocolate walnut. Dude.

“And I certainly don’t recognize any of the other names on here,” she adds, handing me the torn out page. “Maybe,” she says with a sad twinkle in her eye, “this where your father first thought of your name—after all, it was his idea to name you Gary.”

I look at the paper and at Ed Johnson’s name.

“But you should keep it. We could frame it—I know how those things mean so much to you.”

“Mom,” I say, confused and with a mouth full of cookie.

“Don’t eat too much. Even though you’re feeling better, you don’t want to push it.”

“What about Ed Johnson?” I ask, looking at the paper and then at her. “His name’s on here. He’d be the perfect person to ask—he knows everyone’s name.”

“Ed who?” she answers.

“Ed Johnson—Elysium’s mailman for the last thirty years? Dad’s only real friend?” I search her eyes.

“Honey,” she gives me a curious glance. “Francis Pepper is the only mailman I know of. Who’s Ed Johnson?”

Oh man.

As I stare at the page, the sun shines through the kitchen window and hits the yellowed paper. I notice something that I didn’t see before: a watermark. The image immediately strikes me as familiar. I excuse myself and head up to my room.

Okay, dude. You are dreaming, or crazy, or in the middle of a really, really good practical joke.

“Gary?” my mom calls after me.

I pretend I don’t here.

I rush to my room, the torn notebook page in my right hand. I keep looking at it, staring at it in the light. I know that image my heart. It’s different from the rose, chain and rope drawing. It’s the same mark on the railing of the bridge where my father jumped, and where my grandparents fell. There’s no mistake: the lines, the curves, the shape. This is the mark on the bridge.

One problem: I made that mark. Line by line, curve by curve, each time I visit the bridge. I carved it into the railing over the last six years. It has grown in size and shape, in depth, but it is mine. And now here it is, a watermark on a thirty-year-old piece of paper that once was my father’s.

It’s taking everything I can not to run out of the house and go to the place—the place where if I were in a mystery novel—I would know I was being led to.

I fall back onto my bed and stare at the ceiling. Dean Fessler, Ed Johnson: gone. Sam’s on this list, she’s the last person but only two names removed from Ed Johnson. This is not cool, even if it is a practical joke. How do I know this Sally Johnson person or P.P. isn’t already gone. I don’t care so much for my sanity or anything else—I figured I lost all chance of thinking, or being, normal when I saw my Dad inexplicably jump off a bridge never to be heard from again. But Sam? I honestly couldn’t survive without her—wouldn’t want to survive without her. I know this is crazy, but it’s not like it’s just happening in my head—everyone seems to think these people don’t exist anymore. Even the Internet.

I sit up and stare at myself in the mirror above my dresser. My eyes settle on a Rosewood box that sits on the dresser just beneath the mirror—the box that my father had made—the one that my mother gave me for my sixteenth birthday with the keys to his Pontiac GTO inside. I use the box to hold the little things that mean so much to me—postcards from Sam, a birthday card from my grandparent’s, some trinkets that my Dad left behind, A key that I found on the bridge the day I saw him jump.

I stare at myself in the mirror. “Who are you?” I say out loud.

And I can’t figure out if I’m talking to my father or myself.

I feel something swirl inside. But it’s not my father or myself that stirs my thoughts. It’s the thought of Sam in peril, my fear of losing the one thing I still have, that sets me into action—that fortifies my resolve—or at least compels me to get the hell out of my bedroom.

I run down stairs and shout to my mom, “I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Gary—Where do you think you’re going? You need to rest.”

“I need fresh air mom,” I bluff. “Otherwise I won’t shake whatever this is. I’m gonna ride my bike—sweat it out.”

For whatever reason, she lets me go. I make my way to the garage, grab my bike, and go before she changes her mind. I take the curb blindly and almost bail when I have to swerve for an oncoming car. With my heart kick-started and my adrenaline on flow, I make my way towards something much deadlier than oncoming traffic. I wonder if this is what they mean when they say follow your dreams. Somehow I doubt it.

* * *

I’m on the railing of the trestle bridge, watching the Mississippi flow beneath me. The surface of the water appears still against the fading sunlight of dusk. But you can sense that things are moving just below. It’s exactly how I feel: petrified on the outside with a raging current underneath. I catch my reflection in the water, thirty feet below, and I startle, almost losing my balance. I’m seventeen but I look ancient in the river’s reflection. I can almost make out my dark strands and what my mom calls incandescent eyes. They fade to grey and the ripples become my wrinkles. I know the thoughts and words that go through my head are not what a normal seventeen-year-old would think—not what a normal person at any age would think. That was always the case I can see now. I always glimpsed some ancient part of me buried within my thick, teenage husk. But right now, it feels like I’m about to be harvested.

I shift my feet in nervous expectation. I stare at the mark on the railing below—the one I made after I saw my father leap from the exact place I stand now—the same watermark from the page of his journal. I’ve visited this bridge for the last seven years. I use his old pocketknife to carve into the railing, a new line each visit. All those shapes—there are hundreds of ‘em in there by now. But for me—when I look at it—it’s like it was drawn all at once, in one clean line.

I had to start over a few years ago, on a new railing. My grandparents accident tore the railing away—but I recreated from memory every line and continued carving new lines until it was done—until somehow I knew it was complete.

How could he know—how could it be drawn on that page thirty years ago?

The water’s dark surface reflects the late summer sun in orange and red. I don’t see my grandparents anywhere. Or my father. But I can see Sam, staring at me from my reflection in the water. Her endless eyes looking into mine. She knows far more about me than she lets on. Sam’s the only thing left in this world that means anything to me, that makes any sense. I wonder if this is a mistake to not wait for her. What would I tell her, though? Something has brought me here. But how do I explain it? I wonder if I should have left her a note just in case, to tell her where I’m going.

Then, it occurs to me – I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know how I got here and I have no idea what I’m about to do. But I know something’s about to happen.

“Gary.” It’s Sam’s voice coming from inside my head, or maybe my heart. “Gary?” It’s like she’s there, right behind me. “Gary?!”

I twist around on the railing so quickly I almost lose my balance. She is there, in her homemade cutoffs, black low-cut Converse and her Broken Social Scene t-shirt. She’s really there.

“Gary, what the hell?”

I turn back around, facing out towards the water, unable to respond, unable to cope with the fact that she’s here. Is she really here?

“How did you…” I’m trying to work out whether I’m imagining her. “How did you know I was here? I thought you weren’t getting back until…”

“We took an earlier flight. I went right to your house and your mom said you just went on a ride, that you weren’t feeling well. I know where you always come when you’re not feeling right.”

“It’s not what you think,” I say without turning around.

“I have no idea what to think,” she answers flatly and I can feel her looking at me, in that way.

The blanket of Iowa summer clings to me like Saran Wrap, even though the day is almost spent. For a second I wish it would just suffocate me. I don’t feel like I want to die. That’s not what I mean. I may not know exactly why I’m here, but I don’t think I’m here for that.

There are all kinds of dreams. We have dozens of them a night and by morning we forget they even happened. Dreams that we sort of remember and the ones you couldn’t forget if you tried. And you have. You might think you have them figured out, and then along comes some little detail that changes the whole thing the dream was about.

The thing I just remembered as I got to the bridge was: in my dream I knew, somehow, that if I didn’t jump—Sam would die. And that’s not the part that changes the whole thing. The part that changes the whole dream was—it wasn’t a dream.

“Do you love me?” I ask, barely able to get out the words.

“What do you think?” There’s a crack in her voice.

I swallow. “Do you trust me?”

There’s a silence before she answers; it pushes me from behind. “You know I do. But, Gary, you’re scaring me. I mean, your…”

“My dad?”

Even though I’m not looking at her, I can feel her lower her head and I want to take those words back.

“Gary, is this…” she tries to find the right way to say what she wants to say.

“I don’t know what it is, Sam.” I let a breath in, then out. “But I know it’s something.”

As the words make their exit there’s a whisper in my ear. It’s time.

“I love you.” I look over my shoulder to see streaks starting to run down Sam’s face. I offer a fractured smile. “I’ll be right back.” And I want it to be true.

When my feet finally leave the railing, the feeling is effortless, as if gravity has reversed. I’m floating and I see blue sky. Then I’m falling and I see the mighty river rushing towards me. And like my father before me, I’m about to find out what’s waiting on the other side of the surface.

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in my head in my heart in my soul

we are in the grass

as if it were water

swimming towards each other

and away

from wherever it is

that we were

the shore has almost disappeared


if we lose our way back

i don’t think i would cry

i might even forget

who it was

that i was

and lay on the blanket

that’s spread

between the ocean and the sky


the only reason you should be looking back

is if you’re going in reverse

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blazing shark

i am in the prime number of my life

only divisible by one and myself

i show my math

but i leave out the problems

exposing organs of love and lust

like an old man who is still young

wearing trench coats in the blazing heat

5 o’ clock shadows at 10am

i smell like bukowski

but taste different


i taste with tongues too wet to kiss

and too dry to lick

i pray at altars

in the back of rooms

hiding from saints

with names like yours


and my favorite pieces

are the ones when he was happy

when his writing sucked

but he was finally free

we can finally write about relief

as if it were romantic

peace is the new anarchy

freedom is the new slavery

and dirty is the new clean


i am a relief map that has no relief

only bumps and grinds

where the roads all meet up

and the highways burn

lighting the way to shangri-la

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raise the dead

where were we before all this


in eden drinking from streams

slipping in and out of each other’s bodies

sipping the nectar

that dripped

from the edges of our unconscious

being whoever we wanted


we weren’t waiting on the miracle

we were the miracle

before the flowers

and the dinosaurs

turned to oil

before the sun and the moon

split up

with shared custody

of the sky

alimony payments to bartenders

and tax deductible charity organizations


night and day

used to be the same thing

before the divorce

before the taxis

ran across my feet

before my eyes turned to blanks

before the fiery crash

that left us in pieces

pieces that we are looking for

without even knowing it


we are searching for something

that’s on the tip of our tongues

a word

that gets stuck in the back of our throats

that hides in the back of our minds

and weighs

at the bottom of our hearts


the maps we made won’t help us

the rules we follow won’t guide us

there is no direction home

because we are already there


burn your thoughts in the temple

and then burn the temple


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greenhouse effect

if i have been the one drinking

how is it

that i feel drunk


trees touching

the tips of my toes

birds nested in my hair

the grass is rolling all over me

as the street

gets carried up in the wind

it blows the cars across the sky

like clouds

making shapes


that one’s a rhinoceros with a hard on

you say


i point

there’s an apricot giving birth to a unicorn


and when we fall asleep

with tangled limbs


in the warm hot august blanket

no one forgets to turn the lights out


but they’re still on in the morning



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those who do not know art will be condemned to repeat it

they will hurt you

if you let them

and even if you don’t


they will watch

if you forget to shut the shades

and find a way to see

even if you do


we are not dangerous

because we think

we are dangerous

because we feel


they hate us for our freedom


and even though it may seem

as if they have taken everything

the things that are in your heart

will be safe


there is no key they can use to open

what was never locked to begin with

they will watch

if you forget to shut the shades

and find a way to see

even if you do


we are not dangerous

because we think

we are dangerous

because we feel


they hate us for our freedom


and even though it may seem

as if they have taken everything

the things that are in your heart

will be safe


there is no key they can use to open

what was never locked to begin with


continue reading this piece

ian in hamburg in the mission

fourteen hills

it was a hilltop

where we sat

until our butts got so cold

we had to stand


“we’re higher

than most of the people in this city”

but only because we wanted to go to the top

and knew

we belonged there


you said to evan and i

“this city seems so small”

and evan said

“but when you’re inside of it

it goes on forever”


perfection doesn’t rsvp

and it usually shows up with strangers

but it was only the three of us

last night

we knew

what there was to know about each other

even if we had no idea

how we found out


after we wrote those words

across the skyline of our city

we went down the hill

to where forever was waiting

with its arms open wide

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everything means so much more than it means

i can’t keep it together

these days

i’m cracked open

and whatever it is

that i’ve been trying to contain

just spills out



it’s hard to go

to the living rooms

and bars

everyone there just keeps filling each others cup

even though they’re already overflowing

spilling onto the carpet

leaking into the floorboards

flooding up the basements

where drunk writers

talk about what it means to write


but you can’t write about meaning

you can only try to find meaning

in what you write


there are these colors

that come to me

and beg me to open them up

and look inside

“we are the present

you’ve been waiting for”

they say

but i run

as fast as i can

from what it means to mean something

by what it means to see you here


across the room

as imperfect ashtrays

try to measure

the weight of your words

in smoke

that leaks out the corners of your mouth

like arms

reaching up

towards heaven

hoping there will be someone

who will pull you up

right out of this room


and the light escapes

even as it searches for a way back in

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explosions in the sky

when i think of you

we are underwater

not all the way

but mostly

our hands wet in july

slippery enough

to reach just about anything

as long as we don’t hold on too tight


it was before i left town

for the first time

our limbs

brushed against each other

first accidentally

and then on purpose

so much purpose

the little that covered us

came off


turned on

your legs finally

wrapped around mine

to keep yourself afloat

to keep both of us floating

as they waited for us by the shore

both of them

almost able to see

wondering what we were doing

knowing what we were doing

they didn’t matter

nothing mattered

except the way the sky kept falling

into the quarry

and that song kept playing in my head

it was a blue light

that was coming from your body

smooth as a star

the sparks kept shooting

out of you

into me

into me

out of you

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accidentally for the first time

accidentally for the first time

i fell beside you

on purpose

every time after


beating expectation

as if i was a drum


for the touch of your fingers

on my skin

ready to react

stretched out

across the horizon

underneath your palms

the invisible weight

pressing down

like a sunset


i couldn’t move if i wanted to


i am wrapped tight enough

to react

to catch the slightest graze

to let out the softest cry

or the deepest moan

i am slack enough

not to break

under the weight of our imagination


it tastes like magnolia

the air between the two of us

as it passes between my lips


accidentally for the last time

i fall into you

on purpose

every time after


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they hate us for our freedom

they will hurt you

if you let them

and even if you don’t


they will watch

if you forget to shut the shades

and find a way to see

even if you do


we are not dangerous

because we think

we are dangerous

because we feel


they hate us for our freedom


and even though it may seem

as if they have taken everything

the things that are in your heart

will be safe


there is no key they can use to open

what was never locked to begin with

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the pen makes the pain go away

when i melt it is not for you

it is for me

the hot wax

dripping from my heart

only hurts for a second

and the pain

makes the pain

go away


the way i make myself twist

and turn

like a pretzel

that you share with someone

like an ordinary bite


the way i have made you

in my mind

makes me wonder

what a mind is for

to trick the heart

or to do its bidding


i do irrational things

and make art out of it

and it makes art out of me

i do not want it any other way though

everything that is open

lets everything in

and out



when i melt it is not for you

it is for me

for you

i burn


continue reading this piece


disembodied dream #184

i ran

from everything

i knew

or thought i knew

until i ran into myself


i was standing there

by the bridge

where we first met

for the last time


and i couldn’t breathe


i told myself

it was going to be alright

but there was no way

it was going to be alright


everything was crashing

into everything else

people stopped asking questions

and no one could say i love you



but i was standing there


at myself

i seemed so comfortable

in my own skin


i took my hand

and i said to me

the end has come

and it is just the beginning


when i gave my hand to myself

there was a light

that came from the inside

it said it was here to stay


just like you said

in the morning

by the river

when we let ourselves drop

knowing there was no place to land

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if we knew where we were heading we might not go

for every life

we forgo the past

we give up that knowing

we got at the end of the last one

that we were here

that we will be here again

that we never really leave


there are rooms

within rooms

and none of the doors are locked

even if they should be


we are not allowed

to remember

so that we can’t see the pattern

we are making

with our bodies

the direction we are going


if we knew

we might not go


the infinite shape

the name that we chose

before it chose us


i remember you

from before i remember you

continue reading this piece