happiness

“Happy birthday, Haku,” she said.

I watched her, soft and silent. She gazed at me with full and gleaming eyes, soft hazel shaded gray, and I was so touched I wanted to cry.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” she said, “and I almost thought that I wouldn’t make it tonight, either. Things have been crazy…”

She paused, blinked, and inhaled. Then she started to talk again, low and slow and steady. She told me about her job, her classes, all the things she had been up to since we’d last met, and I listened with quiet attention. Her staying busy did not surprise me — she had always been that kind of person. I was a little concerned that she would get in over her head and burn out, but for the moment she seemed to be doing well. More than anything, she said, she was happy. And that was what mattered most to me.

“I’ll try to come again,” she said, “but I don’t really know when, my schedule is so hectic now… but listen. I’m graduating in the fall, and my boss says I’m due for a promotion, and there’s this program I want to apply for… you see? I’m happy. Really happy, things have been great and it looks like it’ll continue this way… We have so much to look forward to.”

We have so much to look forward to. Something in that statement profoundly moved me. After all that had happened, and considering how terrible her situation still was, the fact that she could still say she was happy, still say she was looking forward to the future…

Around us, the sky darkened and the salty wind began to blow the day’s fallen leaves off the grasses. The air was thick and polluted, the stars nearly invisible, but she didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I. Our meeting had been long overdue — and together, in spite of everything, we had so much to look forward to.

“Happy birthday,” she’d said. Another year, come and gone. She left the cemetery at midnight, the moment when it became not my birthday but hers, and as I looked after her I felt at peace. 

Things were going to be okay. They just had to be.

patterns of succession

every day that goes up in flames
   is a star that falls too early,
a star that shines too late;
poetry is a metaphor for reality,
   but they don’t tell you what to do
   when old metaphors become new truths,
when ‘the earth is on fire’ becomes fact,
   and you’re faced with something –
something so expected, so comprehendible,
you can’t even begin to shed a tear.

every day that goes up in flames
   is a sliver shaved off of the end of my life,
another wood sliver hammered into your coffin;
we used to dance to the rhythm of the earth,
   to the rising, falling tides
   and the migration patterns of the birds,
and now we can’t even hold each other’s hands,
   we’re so torn apart by these borderlands,
and this choking smoke births only bitterness in our mouths,
hatred in the place of our hearts.

every day that goes up in flames
   is another soul being lost to our shame,
another soul surrendering to meaningless pain;
you think you’re so smart but you don’t understand,
   it was never about evolution
   or power or race,
it was about time and space,
   a home to heal in without leaving a trace –
but the trace you’ve left is a full-body burn scar
and the healing ice and cold water have melted away.

look into my eyes,
   and hear my voice on these nights,
because it doesn’t have to be this way.
every day we walk to save our children from the firelight,
   to turn reality back into metaphoric poetry,
   is a day of meaning,
an offer of hope and healing,
   because we can dance to the rhythm again –

and it wouldn’t be a miracle.

it would be nothing more, nothing less
than a simple act of love.

Epilogue (Part V)

Previous: Part IV


V.

“The earth is on fire” used to be a metaphor.

Something to dramatize, to clarify, something to make things real in the way we understand realness. Now, it’s just truth. Now, the forests burn, the fields burn, the books burn, the waters boil and the plants die and the heat chokes up our perfect, invincible, powerful bodies and there’s no going back.

There’s no going back.

There’s slowing, and there’s adapting, if we care enough to do that. But the fire is here to stay.

“Metaphorically speaking,” you prompt hesitantly. And my first response is to laugh.

“You’re a writer,” I say. “So you tell me.”


Next: …

the things i still remember

“Wait for me,” he’d said that day…

I still remember his eyes. Amber-colored, soft and gentle. They lit up at the edges when he smiled, and then narrowed and seemed to draw forward when he was being intense, thoughtful, or serious. He’d gazed at me with those narrow eyes that day – the day he left, the day we both made promises we could not keep, knowing that he would not be coming back.

I remember his hair. Long, compared to most boys back then. Slightly ruffled, thick, and dyed in all the colors I never dared. I’d admired him for his hair, something that sounds stupid now. Sometimes, when I dream, strangers with unknown faces show up framed in his hair.

I remember the way he talked. When we talked about life and death, suffering and the universe, it was slow, thoughtful, heartfelt. When he talked about music it was different – open and passionate, and rising steadily in volume, although he wouldn’t notice it. He’d talked about music a lot, and I’d listened, letting him share this part of his heart.

These are the things I still remember. Now, after all these years, they are outnumbered by the things I do not.

For some time I thought I would just let this happen, this slow deterioration of memory. But today, for some reason, I want to fight it. And so I will start by writing these lists of the things I still remember. He had talked about writing a lot back then, whenever he’d talked about composing music. “You have to write it down,” he’d say. “Take what’s in your heart and what’s in your head, and find a way to articulate it on paper. Then later you can look at it and think about it and still remember.”

I wish I could find a way to articulate the things I now forget.