THE GIRL IN THE IRON MAIDEN T-SHIRT
I keep signing contracts with companies from Beijing I have this heart inside of me that wants more than I can earn she’s out there somewhere this isn’t about me drinking beer today was one of those days where it feels like you’re awake for 1,000 years the heat and the hangover are enough to drive a man insane but it was last night when I saw her, some festival out on 2nd Street. my brother had invited me. he’s my Theo. the grandiosity in my brain as I’m waiting for the subway, drinking a beer in a can in a black plastic bag. here we go. it’s hot. and all the people are consumed with themselves. that’s fine. where is she? where is my brother? I toss the beer in a trash can. the sun is beating me down, all weekend: the beer, my drug, I’ve been writing, wait. —this isn’t supposed to be about me. tents aligned. I’m walking north. sweating. I call him, my brother. “where are you?” “I’m up by the tent with the big bottle of whiskey.” “fuckin A!” “Bry” “what?” “the whiskey’s fake.” (there’s no such thing as fake whiskey.) I find him. he finds me. we go to the bar. when we get there, I notice that he walks to the other end of the bar and I remain where I stand, waiting. then I see her. she’s got glasses on. skinny. black hair. dark hair. I like dark hair. she’s working hard. I like that too. wait. wait. this isn’t supposed to be about me. I walk up to the bar, she’s there. ready and waiting.
“Iron Maiden!” she’s staring at me. not saying anything. “Iron Maiden!” I’m repeating myself, louder. she smiles and nods. YEAH, I CAN’T HEAR YOU YOU DIPSHIT. THIS IS A BAR. WHAT THE #%!# DO YOU WANNA DRINK. CANT YOU SEE IM BUSY. you see, I fall in love very easily. and I say whatever comes to mind. I order two beers: Yuengling and a hoppy IPA. she brings me both, that’s her job. she smiles. she’s wearing glasses. smitten. I am. a stupid fool. I return to the booth. and a thousand galaxies remain. in her eyes. I study my brother as he kisses his girlfriend goodbye. we’re sitting there with two other ladies. and I can’t stop thinking about her. the girl in the Iron Maiden t-shirt. after finishing my two beers, and doing my best to ignore the other two females—she is there again. the girl in the Iron Maiden t-shirt. does anybody notice her? she’s so skinny. I’m alarmed. the shirt is a cutoff. I can see a tattoo on the side of her stomach. what about all the bravery in her heart that goes unnoticed? I can feel the way she expands and opens up to me doofus and all, hello. yes. I’ll have another beer. she smiles. she smiles. she smiles like ten thousand suns. she looks good. she looks so good I could explode. I notice however the other women in the bar. and they are prettier than her. but guys are dumb. they do not hold doors for beautiful women. I watch them buy shots where they dump black liquor into cups of Red Bull. and then
they walk away. the prettiest girl in the room. how do you walk away from her? I am dumbfounded, waiting there. as the girl in the Iron Maiden t-shirt hands me another beer. she smiles. again. those glasses. that shirt. there are so many things to know about her. and that’s why she is the most beautiful person in the room. nobody else really notices her. what about her? does she have good healthcare? does she have a boyfriend? is he good to her? why do I care? I must be the biggest buffoon in the whole bar. who the hell am I? you know. the hours move like glue sticks. it’s humid. more women and men are walking into the bar. women of all kinds. women sitting at the table with my brother and I. women in knitted shirts. what the fuck? it’s like 90 degrees. women in dresses. a woman with a sash: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY BITCH. okay. what the fuck? I go to pay my tab. it’s time to leave. why delay and dwell on the inevitable? she hands me the white paper. she keeps smiling at me. grinning. ah, but she’s so beautiful. in the moment. that’s everything. I think about how weird it is that I could be smitten with a girl just coz of the t-shirt she’s wearing. in the moment. there she is. —too beautiful for words. the glasses. her smile. her, working hard. nobody notices her. but I do. I do.
I do. oh. jesus. fuck. I do. my heart swells. I leave her four bucks instead of three. all the rest of everything else is static. I can’t help it. we leave, my brother and I. so long. wavy arms. bellybutton. a big grin. in an Iron Maiden t-shirt. maybe the most beautiful woman in all of Philadelphia. and nobody knows it. nobody knows it at all but I. get me? nobody at all. goodnight! goodnight, you dreamboat. I never got her name. I never asked. some writer I turned out to be.
ON UNREQUITED LOVE, WHICH IS A PAINFUL SYMPTOM OF THE HEART on an empty stomach, this will be hellacious and simple I’m no longer hungover, something that can last at times for days and then I’ll get eight hours of sleep instead of staying up painting drinking rousing in my shorts, dancing recklessly in my kitchen what’s up with that kid? I can almost hear my neighbor thinking at those times—does he know that I lie awake in the mornings hoping and wanting to be loved like anyone? like the flowers in the garden at 8:37 in the morning on a Tuesday in August (I almost wrote ‘July’, but the month flew by and it’s gone now) sipping this hot black coffee remembering things that get stuck in between my ears what gets me outta bed in the morning is a good title, a good line, a new poem I know the sun’ll be shine- ing down on the bricks, the rowhomes (and yes, I know I made a mistake) they’re working on the house next to the apartment where I’m currently living and this makes me think about the ocean which is
about a day’s drive from my window and I miss her I really do like the one time, I got back into the city—from New Jersey after a wedding I sat there in a sports bar, the Eagles were playing up on the screen and I saw her there, in a wedding dress beautiful and one of a kind I felt like I were burning up, crackling with these flames as the waitress handed me a plate of greasy food to fill my gut, it fixed my hangover and I didn’t really care about the Eagles game, I merely was pretending to that proposition, what if she left me hanging? what if I left her before she could break my toes? I left the bar and all the people in love swallowed me whole I wrote her a love letter I was always the one who’d had too many chances DUDE
DUDE DUDE how many times do I have to tell you? why won’t you just go away? and I slept like that under the moon she’d told me before that I would find some- body great, and it was her, damn it it was her, the whole time so I slept while she found somebody new I sighed.
I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant waiting for my miso soup it was supposed to cure my sour and dry stomach the rain was coming down and the crowds were scurrying to get safe I’d been looking for a Vietnamese restaurant, somewhere in Chinatown the words were ready in my mouth but I was hungry and I couldn’t be bothered even though I was laughing to myself, knowing that I was succumbing to somewhere beyond myself, I couldn’t pinpoint it still I knew the hot broth and chicken and noodles would cure me temporarily of my ailments I had words piling up inside of me and without food I was a useless creature, I nearly felt lost, pulling out my phone, HELP—HELP ME and it led me to another closed restaurant so you see the Japanese soup hadn’t been my first choice but I liked Chinatown in the nighttime rain and I was the one nobody really saw unless he pulled out some money I sat and I ate my soup, knowing that it was late and I had another meeting, albeit brief, with Beijing I slurped the hot soup as a couple next to me complained about their order not being ready on time, speaking in turn to the waitress and waiter, all in Japanese, as the soft lighting in the restaurant and the rain and the night all made me feel better the heat had been killing me and something else something else in the back of my brain, I couldn’t figure it out, I just kept trying, I kept doing what I had to do going to class, no, I don’t want to write it, I was supposed to be teaching students, students who spoke French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish—I spoke a redundant South Philly dialect, kept to myself, just wanted a room, a pair of headphones, maybe a Vivaldi symphony and some fucking crayons a case of beer and a fridge full of food, some whiskey in the freezer
I was a dolt dingbat dumpweed I was harried with time infinity like a rock around my neck the soup was good but I had hoped for something better a Japanese woman walked into the restaurant, in yoga pants and Gucci shades wild hair it was almost orange she immediately gave off this air of everything that was all about her and I finished my soup and espied another white gentleman airing out his thoughts, a camera on his table, the reflection of the mirror behind him I paid and left goodnight brothers and sisters I walked to the subway in the rain a guy down there asked me to take a subway card for two dollars “what? I don’t understand” “you hand me the two dollars once you get on the other side” I explain to him that I don’t have any cash and I realize that Market Street is insane and underneath City Hall is a no man’s land people are ruptured in their spleens, hearts and guts all around the most important building in Center City right? right? right? and I realize this poem was supposed to be about a girl from my past when I was out in Colorado Springs lying on the floor in a room with lights and books and a radio I was waiting to hear back on a love letter, I think
that’s what started everything, really that’s what started all of this it wasn’t the realization that I was good at writing research papers in high school thirty minutes before they were due, no I wrote love letters for a few years before I understood what it meant to even want to be a writer some bullshitter with a drink and a crapshoot, a shot in the dark I was going nowhere but love that was really something so I wrote these love letters, or I lived on luck and love and like I said, I was in the middle of the country, nearly out of my mind all those books going right to my head like Rimbaud escaping to London or to Paris like Ginsberg in Manhattan, staring out at the skyline like Bukowski drinking whiskey and smoking a cheap cigar I was staring out a window that wasn’t mine to stare out of and she told me that my letter, it was nice to hear “I’ve been feeling invisible lately, so this was really nice” I read those words over and over again and that’s when I got off my ass, packed up my shit and zoomed, heading straight for the east coast I was fucking stupid I was in love I was in love with her shit I didn’t stand a chance.
WOMEN WHO AIN’T WHITE
I live in this black neighborhood and I’ve noticed recently how white people are taking over—my people, I think but wait I’m of Italian descent and I know they’re living somewhere on the other side of Broad Street and when I’m walking around the neighborhood, say I’m carrying my laundry two black women sitting on the stoop, two doors down from me I see their braids, their rocking chairs, their long-toothed joy at my reckoning of their attention, Hello Hello, I say to them, and they smile or they don’t smile and they nod going back to whatever they’d been talking about before I intervened I think about them, not cautiously—just trying to see the world through somebody else’s eyes, the one lady is always out there, rocking back and forth I wonder about her and what she’s waiting for or maybe she’s not waiting for anything and when I walk in the other direction, another black woman is sitting there out front of her house and quite often she calls me baby and she always asks me how I’m doing, which, to be honest, is more than my mother asks me not because my mother is working most of the time but because my mother is a worrier and she’s afraid to express herself openly in public you see, I’m just a skinny white boy from Jersey but here in this neighborhood I’m learning more about expressing myself in public, I mean just common conversation y’all I laugh at my own serene stupidity now I ask her if she wants a beer “I can’t,” she tells me, avidly annoyed because one Hello is enough and the second time around is different than the first, so I let it go at that they have girls and boys that run around in the neighborhood and sometimes they’re wild, and sometimes they’re polite as hell, much more polite that I can understand when I’m far away in
my own mind, walking out into the unflinching sunshine some kind of gibberish going on in my head “oh, I didn’t know you made paintings” “hey, baby, where you going?” “hey, handsome,” an older woman says to me, she’s wearing a headscarf and sometimes at night, “hey, hey, where the party at? where you goin’ with all that beer?” I laugh and walk away I laugh too because I don’t know what else to say what if I lie down with a black woman? so what? so what if she calls me “baby” or “love”? so what if she frowns? ignores me, doesn’t care I walk on, thinking about it and one time, as I was minding my own business, a black woman who’d just opened a store around the corner caught me walk- ing by, and she asked me outright HEY CAN YOU HOLD THIS BOX? uhhh, I said, sure JUST PUT IT RIGHT OVER THERE I put my laundry down on the cement, laughing then I took the box and I placed it on the ground, yes I was the nice white boy in the neighborhood harmless there must be something wrong with me, but no I just want to see something different than the white suburbs, there’s a certain kind of nothingness there where nothing really happens, but boredom sprawled through the days of white wives spending their husband’s money or scanning their cell phones for arbitrary lines of being trendy and fashionable while a million light-years across town (at least mentally) speaking of trends, most of the women I see homeless on the streets, they’re black and their hair is wretched and their teeth are missing sometimes they’re barefoot they’re usually unsound of mind and where do they go? how can they get famous? where is their
White Knight? I wrote this poem because a black woman made me cry she wrote a poem that made me cry she was strong she was strong because she had to be she didn’t have a choice while some women go into their twenties drunk and picking from eight different phalluses at once, it seems like university students in Philadelphia, ones who ain’t white, they must become adapted to a world that can and will pull the trigger on their love and in a matter of moments their whole world can be destroyed this sadness ringing in my ears while white women play in this sandbox of eternity I know some black women who just can’t make it unless well, unless what? I think I’m dreaming is this really true? somewhere along the way, we have made women who ain’t white believe in themselves but society has also made them into something else, I can’t even say it the earth is diseased but I want to, I really want to respect your opinion everybody struggles but a young black woman’s poem could make me cry while a rich white woman who has lost her sense of
struggle turns me inward and makes me want to walk away—forever there are no tears in her tragedy, the problem of not having any problems what the fuck do you really know about anything? and that’s what gets stuck inside of my bones stuck inside of my head I’m in love with a black woman, what if I couldn’t say it aloud in public? I’ll be sitting there listening to her and what she doesn’t know is she changed me she changed my life and how I think they all do and I suppose I’m being unfair to them to everybody but this morning, I nearly cried
from the poem of a young university student, a black woman she’s worried about losing some- one to violence, unbecoming just because of the color of her skin like it matters in the dark I’d do anything for her or maybe I never will maybe I never will at all.
ARGUMENTS IN PARKING LOTS
I wrote this title in a notebook on my desk the other day but a lot can happen during a day or two or three and even though the music remains the same sometimes it’s time for another beer… and it feels good tonight even though the days have been hot hot hot too hot to stand and I was gonna write about remembrances of friends fighting with their ladies in parking lots but that was days ago, like I said and what I’ll write about now (while drinking new beer) is the feeling I got when seeing her name again in my email inbox I wasn’t ready I wasn’t ready for it and that’s how it happens, I guess—just when things are finally going well they might even be going better than that, and somehow they always know, you know what I mean? and that’s when my heart exploded into a million pieces, it was gruesome, totally so I opened that fucker and she told me that she had moved to a foreign country (I won’t say where) and that she wanted to know if I had a bag some fucking bag
that didn’t really matter to her, it was a ruse—she wanted a reaction maybe she was lonely, just for a moment maybe she was tired of the same thing maybe nobody was paying attention to her what she didn’t know is that I’d been waiting for that email for quite some time and I was ready for it, I was too strong think of it: a bag that meant nothing to her two or three or four years ago and now? she wanted to know if I had it, even though she knew I didn’t, I wouldn’t, what the hell? women were crazy, or maybe just her oh, hell they always sense these things and I wrote her a letter in response it was a good one where I had to erase the part where I said that I loved her and I always would no I couldn’t say that what was she jealous of? why reach out to me? of all people, I assumed she must’ve had at least 11 to 14 ex- boyfriends why me?
this shook me so working in the heat, the measly AC-unit from the wall keeping me going in the madness of everything burning, for- ever I thought about going out to the art museum to clear my head but down in the subway I changed my mind instead I went to get a bowl of pho for real this time and I sat there eating it, enjoying the true air-conditioning thinking about her, shit as I was finishing my soup, stomach wretched, the heat getting to me the drinking the writing making money I had enough problems the map on the screen on the TV across the room I had enough fucking problems my brother messaged me: my rock, yes he was like a reminder in my phone don’t forget yourself, h e seemed to say and I paid and left and laughed to myself on 11th Street went to the grocery store, I had things to do, I had things on my mind like anyone I needed some good food I needed to stop worrying so much couldn’t I drink less? couldn’t I turn the earth around? what was going to happen to all of us? it was like a hole had been unleashed in my head and everything pouring of it now engulfed me in a strange and
easy peace I was finally at peace with myself why did she want to ruin it? I wouldn’t want to do that to her I walked with the bags trying to forget it but somehow I couldn’t I remembered those arguments in parking lots I remembered her saying that we should just call it quits she was confusing and she was confused nothing was ever easy except fucking her and even then, well shit I guess I’m getting sentimental it must be the beer it must be Fall Out Boy’s fault the lonely always wanted to find me they came to me when they were hurting or when they no longer wanted to be alone
where could I go? where could I go when I was lonely? where could I go when I no longer wanted to be alone? nowhere! nowhere at all ...I carried the groceries to the subway and it was still hot, hot, hot, and the city burned, sweating like a thief I’d made so many wrong turns all day I’d felt trapped but I was grateful for realizing myself that was everything and when I got off the subway I saw her a girl I’d slept with and never talked to again.
man I put everything into my writing and every time I walk past the MAB paints on South Street I think about my past for whatever reason there’s a couple on Broad Street, on their porch I see a laptop and a few bottles of booze it’s hot, I’m sweating—I keep walking everything is doing its best to pull me under I get back to my apartment with my street smarts and it feels good to see my paintings all over the place and I switch on the AC wating for some- thing poetic to happen but there’s nothing to say I get on with my life in the morning, I hear from my brother and he sets me straight so I do my best to forget the walking home from class out near the Convention Center and the walking down into the subway around Walnut and Locust and South and Lombard AYE that’s where I used to see HER and it’s also where the MAB paint(s) resides I kept walking and then it’s Friday (after another call with Beijing, an invite)
what would I do if I were to move half- way across the planet? I slept woke up early my brother messaging me at 6 am okay I want to finish this conversation so I get up and the sunshine blinds me through the windows in the kitchen and that’s enough to set a man on fire because the rest of every- thing else is just too much to recount I went through
so much just to get here all I wanna do is take another shot and drink another beer and get on with it the writing life, oh fuck I sacrificed a lot just like any- one just like this earth just like any- one just like this earth just like anyone.
it’s like a harpsichord, hot to the touch I’m awakened in my room by the morning there’s a painting drying in my kitchen, the oils on the floor I wrote a poem, I know I wrote a poem—I just can’t remember what it was about and I can’t remember the painting, either I’d drunk too much whiskey, paired with the four re- maining beers in the fridge I needed to stop by the bank because there was a security breach so I had a new card sent out to me and lo and behold it wasn’t the right address, I had done that on purpose for so many years after six years, the bank had my address and phone number correct I had done my best to avoid that truth for the past six years and this morning (after spending an hour on the phone with them yesterday) I headed out to the bank, strolling leisurely underneath the sunshine there were drug addicts out on Broad and Wharton, sitting at the bus stop, smoking a bowl and I could see all the way to City Hall and there was a ruptured inter- section with mounds of dirt and they were almost finished with the new grocery store, just past Washington Ave. (I can remember coming back from one of my wild western bullshit trips, and walking all the way from Snyder Ave. to Chestnut from 27th Street, sweating, and there was nothing, it was BARE, at the midsection of South Philly and Center City) everything was changing I kept walking north and I saw a guy with his coffee cursing at him- self because he hadn’t realized that he was going the wrong way
it was hot, hot and humid I zig-zagged to South Street, getting to the bank, doing what I had to do, talking with a teller on a little screen and then I went into the grocery store with my cash (I wasn’t thinking about her) I bought some chicken, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, a cucumber, then I did a figure-8 and nobody noticed I got some water too and I walked home, carrying it all the sun was hot and the city was alive because it was Saturday but it was relatively quiet, I guess there were a lot of people down the shore, still I hoped, secretly, and to myself that I wouldn’t see her I knew that the odds were against me whatever that meant really, there was no chance of her being in the city so I zig-zagged again, making it back to my apartment switching on the AC, sweeping the floors after putting the groceries away and showering and feeling good then I waited in the rain for my parents, my brother and his girlfriend to come by I talked to my neighbor I said Hello to my neighbors the rain came in buckets and I felt peaceful on a Saturday, sitting down with people I loved, with people I love there was no past tense, like previous lovers used to recount and that didn’t matter anymore, there was no time for bullshit
I listened and I felt good and I was present the beer was good and the food was too everything was fine I wasn’t thinking about politics death bombs taxes no I wasn’t thinking about her somebody brought it up though or maybe I was the one to bring it up and there wasn’t really much to say love comes and goes and the love that stays, that’s the best the love that remains like the gray hairs at the sides of my mother’s head or the veins in my father’s face they are alive and they have been for quite some time and I am their offspring one of four boys consummated with a kiss
I keep going I keep going I keep going and I’ll drink more too after we all leave the bar, eventually I go down to the liquor store to get my usual case of beer to overcome the night to keep writing to you, to no one at all just this crazy art to keep writing about love finding it losing it seeing what was in front of my face, all along I listen to Mozart, type these words drink beer on a Saturday night I’m not thinking about her, I’m not think- ing about anything at all.
the sun has high hopes for everyone. so—don’t fuck it up!
SUNDAY (ONE MORE POEM ABOUT THE LOVE I LET GO)
I didn’t really have a choice let me say that I didn’t have a choice to let you go you left me before anything else could happen you were afraid and so you left me with these images of you in my head I can see your smiling eyes when I’m out on the street I notice the shape of your face and I tell myself that I miss you there’s something about your nose, mouth, chin and eyes nobody else looks like you or when they do, I realize that nobody else will ever be as beautiful as you with that towel wrapped around your head, coming out of the shower we’d just made love and you were singing Bob Dylan shirt telling some kinda stupid joke I’m lying on the bed, happy and you are smiling at me with your hands on your hips, shaking we’re both laughing and it was easy like that for a while but there were others too and they had longer legs they were better at certain things than you I liked the intelligent ones, but they were harder to find and I missed one who was kinda like a hippie only she got calloused on her soul from all the dead-end hours working a job she hated―and it’s strange because I just wrote this long poem, about 2,500 words and I had just taken a nap because all the senseless drinking was driving me through to the end of August—the end of us I don’t really see you anymore, I don’t see any of them and I won’t because I don’t want to but I still think about them this mark they’ve left upon me like they’re beaming at me when I’d been rubbing their back, their stomach, their hair
this feeling good in each other’s company that was all that ever really mattered to me I wanted to say more but you never gave me that chance you pushed me away why? I’m fearless, not afraid of your love or at least not now but back then what were you afraid of? was it something I said? and what did you need from me? I couldn’t understand it and I still don’t why love fails maybe there isn’t any reason for it maybe you were meant to be this lasting image in my head blue eyes green eyes maybe you’re shaving your legs while I’m lying on the bed in the other room the shower running some other place where we’ll never be some other life you and I we’re madly in love
forever and that’s all I really give a shit about your love your love a stupid grin this stupid, corny poem I had to I had to let you go.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I wrote these poems during a week in August 2018. I added some drawings and one of my paintings. A girl at the bar was wearing an Iron Maide...
Published on Aug 13, 2018
I wrote these poems during a week in August 2018. I added some drawings and one of my paintings. A girl at the bar was wearing an Iron Maide...