Hunger Was Never An Excuse Poems by Mason Kassis
Contents November / 4 $0.99 Bread / 5 Spirituality / 6 Hunger Was Never An Excuse / 7 Do Loneliness and Nostalgia Go Together? / 8 I Might Have Flown / 9 Catholic Middle School Struggle / 10-11 Here / 12 Aptos Beach in July / 13 Surprising Moments / 14 Light Bulbs / 15 Gin Rummy / 16 Thanksgiving Dinner / 17 How to Make the Most out of Falling Asleep in Class / 18 Red Hands / 19
For my mother and grandmother.
“Look into the eyes of a landslide.”
Bob Segar Slug of Atmosphere
November I had a fuzzy idea come to me when I saw the warmth reflected in snowflakes covering a gnarled road in pure white blankets. Snowballs, instead of butterflies, shivered in my stomach until wool and flannel melted their crystal wings into a puddle containing one hat, five buttons, one carrot, two sticks, and one scarf. A strong enough clue that any amateur detective should conclude either winter is past or it is fast approaching.
$0.99 Bread Roaming the bread isle, my escalator eyes walk my hands down, to choose the loaf priced 99¢--a thrifty 22 slices, 4.5¢ each, a price I couldn’t beat-and then I made the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and took a large bite-inside the plastic wrap, the bread was stale.
Spirituality It colors the oxygen that fills the distance between two polar opposites. North, south Feet and head. Chameleons manifest spirit to reality by reflecting Externally internal disposition. Radiant hues illuminate the space between.
Hunger Was Never An Excuse Drink the promises I gave to you, and spend what is left on yourself. “Don’t buy a convertible or invite the Kennedy’s for company, what would come next is not pleasant.” You wear your smile as if to say, “I am ready for weather”. Middle of the street, an odd place for this but our eyes are locked, your car stands between us like a farmer in an orchard holding a burlap sack, “Pick the road and drive.” And I say this, hoping you built that box we talked about, “The box strong enough to hold jungle monsters from our dreams in place like catholic school boys standing erect for role call.” The box just in case one of us had to, or decided to, or needed to leave. The car door opens, you step in: “I’d still like to be friends.” You hand me the box: “I will never be your friend. I promise.” You drive away, sending box and road shaking my fingers and toes the richter scale.
Do Loneliness and Nostalgia Go Together?
For the first year college student
The wall starts at the floor and ends at the ceiling, doing its job perfectly. Someone, somewhere, at some time told me now this is my job too. I try hard, but in old buildings, warped glass reflects classroom tube lighting imperfectly like the way I see my thoughts when I try to look outside my own head. One pane should be more easily transparent, but that doesnâ€™t seem the case. Here, chalkboards track words, Record them, and arenâ€™t easily erased. Thoughts wipe into clouds of dust, hang in the room for years, and never really leave.
I might have flown
For the middle school student
Concentrate hard like eighth grade. Where boys stare, willing peach fuzz To turn whiskers. Here youâ€™re tasked to sprout feathered wings And fly, miles between islands, Steppingstones, really, walk you to higher plateaus. Teachers allegedly generate warm winds With which their students Wings should fill. But in middle school Occupied by critical, frigid breath, Teachers blow.
Catholic Middle School Struggle First of all, its being the middle school short kid Who’s not tall enough to fit the bill. Labeled the future pot head, with hair longer than his attention span. The one who takes twice as many steps getting down the court, gut cant jump high enough to dunk on the kindergarden basketball hoop. Teacher talk and say, “we know this kid, he’s another lazy intellectual, Dazed behind his bangs without a thought in his brain. How is he supposed to talk with those clunky skate shoes filled with holes?” Secondly, know that school means uniforms: navy blue shorts and bleached polo shirts, God forbid you leave your shirt untucked, and remember your belt, silly! But for me, it was about plaid skirts. Plaid shirts, training bras stuffed with tissues, first tries at makeup, and thinking the most pious of thoughts as Sally Sue slowly bends over to pick up her pen. And realizing that Shit, Im only in 6th grade, but I’m gonna have to invest in bombshells and booby traps Because now I know what a boner is! Thinking to myself, “Oh God, now I know what a boner is. But if I know, then he must, and she must, and every teacher, principal, guest speaker, field trip leader, science nerd, book worm, bus driver, janitor, and lunch lady—who’s also the librarian— The way she winks at me Does she know too?! Do they all know what happens?” Sitting during history class, book on your desk, learning about all these great things like Abraham Lincoln, the abolition of slavery. 10
Looking at a black and white photo of a man with a big beard, tall silly hat, then suddenly, “Oh No! Not again! Jesus!” Crossing your legs like a four year old who has to pee, sliding that big tent of a text book on your lap. Hoping to camouflage, chameleon, or just melt like ice into a puddle, so you’re someone else’s problem to clean up. Then Sally has the fucking nerve to tap you on your shoulder to ask, “Why are you reading with your book on your lap?” “Because sally, one time you bent over to pick up your pen, Thanks for that.”
Here At times when love should mean laughter, I’m held down weighed by dreams, I dream forever. Anxious little complications about navigating email and forcing me to map out enough time to use the bathroom. However, the clock ticks, seasons continue to pass. Spring becomes Summer, and Fall dims into Winter’s cold light. I’ll wind this clock back to a simple time without privatization or service to patrons, tap a child’s imagination then fill my heart with innocence before prejudice sparks a cold flame in the dark. I’ll find peace here, in snow pants and jacket as I push and keep pushing until I break through where nobody’s looking into desolate mountain passes, carving blue highways, chuting between boulders leading to icicle caves that, when lit emanate colors Crayola cannot imagine. I’ll set my heart on fire here where snowflakes fall over leaves fallen, where Autumn dims into Winter’s cold light.
Aptos Beach in July A number of years have elapsed since I’ve heard anything of the moored and crumbling ship at boardwalk’s end corroding deeper each year, becoming home for sea creatures. I know one thing only about this ship; she is strong and embraces even violent waves. She can take it. Occasionally a story’s heard, a bar rumor from an unreliable source, some discounted drunken hearsay, that moves me no closer to enlightenment, no further out of darkness. Maybe I’m not meant to know where the ship came from, or why it sits there. Walking here now, the sun sits frozen at a particular angle, boardwalk and beach my shadows, the beach's arms, her arms, stretching out, logging each step in sand. The song the water sings crashing against the hull eases my anxious wonder, whispers the one thing I need to know: from sunrise to sunset, waves lap and breezes blow, there is no beach without sand, no ocean without salt, and each knows this. I know I must pay homage to these things: sea, beach, and ship. I have little to offer, so I give them my footprints, then watch moon devour them at high tide as if I had never even been there.
Surprising Moments Now that I have moved out of my parent’s house I realize that I am essentially my father. I talk like him, I walk like him, I think like him, and when I saw an old picture him at twenty years old I might as well have been looking in a mirror. Physical similarities obviously have most to do with genetics—even if I grew up in a tower of giraffes I would still look like Dad, and I would still be short. Beyond genetic predisposition, the way I talk and think is surely linked to our daily drive to middle school when I was younger. Every day, Dad and I made the twenty minute drive to school, almost always stopping to get breakfast on the way there. Breakfast was usually my choice and I had a peculiar penchant for Carl’s Jr, a greasy fast food joint known in the midwest as Hardee’s. We would roll through the drive through, order, get the food, and like clockwork, Dad would count his change. Most days we got the correct amount of change, so I saw no point counting it every day. But one morning the cashier must have miscalculated and forgotten to include a nickel. Dad held the change in the palm of his hand with an inquisitive expression on his face looking as if he was about to say something, which he was. Let me preface his reaction to the short change by stating that he is an extremely kind man, but more than anything he is a practical man. He looked at me and said, “That dumb bitch owes me a nickel”. I could never imagine him saying something like that so my sixth grade self burst out in laughter. Probably an awful thing to say about such a minuscule mistake, but we both know the intention behind the statement wasn’t malicious. He was just surprised to be missing a nickel and I was just surprised at such a rash response. From then on I have counted the change with every purchase. And no matter how politically incorrect or insensitive the comment was, whenever we drive by that restaurant together we look at each other and laugh.
Light Bulbs How many things did my dad tell me, life lessons, that never made sense until the moment I needed them most? With twenty limbs and one hundred digits I couldn’t count them all and won’t attempt talk about them all. As a child I would fall asleep anywhere. When I woke, Dad would tell me what I missed and liken my instant sleep to a dying light bulb; “Son, you went out like a light bulb”. Apparently I’d been carried from restaurant booth into the car, and from the car into bed, only learning about it the next morning. He called this sleep of mine “picnic sleep” because of my tranquil expression as if id been in the sun, on a blanket, in a field. I never knew what that looked like until I saw my nephew fall asleep on my shoulder. I learned to regulate my sleep patterns in high school and managed to have a girlfriend. He told me, “Son, she’ll put you on your knees and smack you with a two-by-four; you won't see it coming and you wont know what happened.” I never knew what he meant until them moment it happened. A confused puppy, cocking my head in confusion, watching her walk away. Growing older, I discovered beer. I would stand in the doorway, tell my father where the party was, who was driving and he’d say, “Son, you’re digging your own grave. But have fun, be safe.” I never knew what he meant until I was there face down in the toilet bowl.
Gin Rummy My grandma tells me she loves me when we play cards together because that’s how my family knows best. Warm memories visit often, especially now; my soon to be last memories. On one such occasion, She tells me her favorite color is purple. This fact, among others, shared over gin in hand, and cup with two speared olives, fill an endless scorecard with more than numbers and tick marks. Every baseball game, swim meet, school play, holiday meal, home sick day, family vacation, and every name from our family appear hundreds of times on this card. The information, for whatever reason, makes me think of the queen of hearts, so I’ll get it tattooed on my chest. How many games of cards we’ve played together I can’t count because it would take too much time, and maybe there isn’t much left, and I’m not ready to finish this poem because I don’t know what its like, yet. This christmas we will play cards, the clock will tick louder than ever before. Soon I will wake up from a dream about a grandmother and grandson playing cards, but smile at the sight of the endless scorecard heavy with every favorite color, thanksgiving dinner, christmas morning, and the rest that is important to me.
Thanksgiving haikus Stuff up that turkey. Get in me stuffed turkey, now I am stuffed too. Red wine contains many antioxidants. Therefore, drink at least one glass. Tryptophan and wine make me so tired. I will need to drink coffee. Next comes the desert Pumpkin pie paired with ice cream, more food down my throat. Red wine contains many antioxidants. Therefore, drink another glass. Around the table, say what you are thankful for family, food, friends, and you. Get a deck of cards. Everyone plays gin rummy, grandpa always wins. Red wine contains many antioxidants. Therefore, go drink a third glass. The end of the night all the food will catch up and lay you down for bed.
How to make the most of falling asleep in class If you know you will be bored in class, go sit under a single pane window in winter, and when your mind drifts to an odd place during lecture, notice how the air cascades down, like a rolling fog onto your shoulders and neck like mountains. This avalanche that wonâ€™t keep you awake, initial points of contact feel like hunters arrows striking home with a freeze that spreads like poison; first the hair stands and muscles twitch. Next, warm blankets cocoon the victim, easing him to a sleep. You can take more from your dreams, than what the orator intends to supply, so take lucid control of your sleep and bring to the surface the first thing you hold.
Red hands I’m sorry you caught me staring, I was lost riding the curve of your eyes when the light hit. Time stopped as your cones and rods dilated into two symphonies, orchestrating my steps toward you. I’ll never need to walk the earth to prove it’s round, Not anymore at least. I’m sorry you caught me staring, I was busy noticing that my name looks like a pirate ship, sailing off your tongue, seeking harbor in unsafe places. Sure, I envy the adventure, but Columbus never wanted to go home, and neither will I. I’m sorry you caught me staring, I was thinking if you were a pen, I’d rewrite every poem in your body’s ink, etch words into bones, and remember everything, so that If I die my skeleton will know its final resting place. I’m sorry you caught me staring, I was watching your finger trace the rim of a mug. I could be a sip of coffee and meet your lips, if you let me. I’m sorry you caught me staring, I was drawing the flowers that would grow if you were a cloud and decided to rain. Yes, that was me, you caught me.
About the Author Mason Kassis is twenty year old student attending Seattle University. At the present moment, he very much enjoys snowboarding, skateboarding, reading, writing, and cooking. On an average day you will find him waist deep in his studies or fresh snow. Wherever you might find him, you will always find a smile.