Silence Falls

Rain whispers
And the cars they pass
And I watch
Faceless drivers inside going and going.

And I realize I am one of them
But where am I going
And once I get there
Must I go further?

I don’t know
And thinking about it frightens me
I am so deeply tired
I find that I want to stop.

If I can look from a safe place
Maybe I’ll see where I am going
But I have lost my way
The black is around and under me.

I think I will pull others down with me
So I run deeper into myself
Where questions won’t reach
And silence finally falls.
-ijs

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Distraction

She wanted my heart
but all I could give
was my body
and so we drank a bottle
then played that song

and I held her
while she rode me
into the morning
threw the alarm clock on the floor
and we followed it
while our heat went up in shadows
on the walls

She asked me to stay
unable to see
she was talking to a ghost
and in the morning blue
I closed the door
and walked out of her life
and left her alone
wearing nothing but her makeup.
-ijs

Maybe I Waited

I suppose (maybe) I liked the way
You haunted the halls of my heart
Whispering your cold, dark pain
But maybe there are better places (now)
To find my inspiration.

I think (maybe) I’ve drawn that well dry
Coming back once too often
And it’s possible I kept searching those depths
Because I thought to leave it
Would kill a part of me.

It’s time for you to go
(let me be)
Because you’re already gone
A tortured ghost
Snatched by yesterday’s breeze.
-ijs

Familiar

ghost

I lean into the warm water, feeling it fill my ears with a soft whoompf, the tip of my nose and lips just breaking the surface. Slow, measured breaths. Quiet breaths. The ceiling shimmers and flexes as I open my eyes, the water stings for a second. I like the pain. I’ve always liked it. Razors with their warm shiny edges, beautiful wet blades. It connects me to a body I don’t quite own.

The light flickers, buzzes, blacks out, wavers back to life. The cold fluorescent echoing in shadows.

Warm waves flood my scalp as Mama’s fingers ripple through my hair. Hands move mechanically, massaging my head. I go limp.

Shall I braid it?

I slide up, nuzzling my neck into the edge of the porcelain tub. I nod. I’ve missed my braid. Wiggling my fingers, I check the mobility in my left hand. A little better.

Good girl.

She leans over me. The light pops zzzaaap, black splatters her face.

“Sing?” I mumble.

Her hands disappear for a second. I feel her shift behind me and then lean closer.

Rock-a-bye, baby

fingers trace the red welted scars on my wrist. My blood burns. An itch only a razor can scratch.

on a treetop

fingers press into the flesh, digging, searching.

when the wind blows

Zzzzaaaaazzzaaaap a cough of darkness.

the cradle will rock

Something is shifting, changing. Her arms elongate, thinning, a yellow foot hooks over the edge of the tub.

The door handle rattles. “Ava? You in there?”

Patrick? What’s he doing here? His flight gets back tomorrow.

Zzzzzaaaazzzzzz a chaotic symphony of shadows dance gleefully along the walls.

Mama perches on the edge of the tub, all elbows, knees, and bony edges, like she swallowed a bag of hammers. Emaciated skin sucked around jagged ribs.

I wonder why he doesn’t come in. I don’t remember locking the door.

when the bough breaks

Her eyes are gone. Just a white sloping emptiness distending from straggling ropes of hair down to a pocked nose. The cheeks pull into something resembling a grin. Part of her bottom jaw is gone.

“Ava, who are you talking to? Who’s in there?!” The rugged mahogany groans as he throws a shoulder into it. “OPEN THE DOOR! AVA!”

Mama turns and scuttles up the wall, her wet, hacking voice splattering around me.

the cradle will fall

I can’t pull my eyes away, fascinated by the ripples of her distended spine protruding through her back. Bony shoulder blades squirm and jerk.

ZZZZZZZZAAAAAAAAAAAA POP the light goes out leaving me with one last glimpse of her body splayed across the ceiling above me, small but impossibly large, her head rotating, black hair falling around a sightless face.

and down will come baby

BOOM!

“AVA!”

BOOOM!

“BABY! PLEASE! AVAAAAAA!!”

I reach up in the darkness, “MAMA! DON’T LEAVE ME AGAIN! DON’T LEAVE ME!”

cradle and all.

CRAAAAACKKK! The door splinters open, a beam of light catching Mama’s form as she launches herself toward me, all disjointed arms, knobby legs, hooked fingers.

“AVAAAA! NOOOO!”

And then I am awash in fire and blackness and rushing water. Patrick diving, reaching, but he’s late. He’s too late.

Mama takes me.

Down, down into wet, shiny nothingness.

Some random thoughts about when life punches you in the face

Isaiah Stratton

I was listening to an interview with Tim Roth, and he said something I rarely hear successful actors say—he said he knows great actors, actors who do amazing work, who’ve never gotten their break. They’ve never “made it.” He recognized that for whatever reason, their skill was not recognized. He said they should be working, they deserve to be working, but it just hadn’t happened for them.
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That made me think. If you’re like me, you’ve heard the positive attitude stuff, the “want it hard enough and it’ll happen” stuff; shoot, I just finished reading “The Alchemist.” The entire theme of the book is that if you’re in tune with what your heart wants, and if you put that above all else, and you chase it with all the strength you’ve got, then the universe will come to your aid and actualize the realization of what you’re chasing.
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I think there is great strength in identifying your passion and pursuing the thing that God has gifted you to do, but I also believe what I read in another book—that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Life has punched me in the mouth. And if you live long enough, it’ll do the same to you. The question is: what do you do when your plan doesn’t look like it’s working? like it may never work?
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I was texting with a friend who—if you looked at his work and his online presence you’d think was “making it”—told me he’d hit a breaking point. I could hear the frustration in his words, and I understood. Watching jobs go to people who are “more connected.” Juggling and scrapping and fighting to produce quality work. All while figuring out how to keep your nose above water. It’s hard. The punches keep coming. Your nose gets broken. Your teeth hang loose. Your eyes swell. You wonder if it’s worth it. You wonder why you keep doing it.
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When I did this shoot with Aña, she asked me what I wanted to see from the pictures, and I told her I wanted the truth—I wanted to see what I’m feeling right now. As I looked through what she got, I realized what I was seeing: a guy who’s closed off. The body language in almost every shot was turned away or inward. And that’s where I am now. I feel a little punch drunk. But I’m on my feet.
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Aña asked me point blank if I’d ever give up—give up this career. And my answer was instantaneous—no. I will not. Both of my grandfathers died young. They were both great men, and should have lived longer. Much longer. I have no guarantees in this life. I’ve worked in a job for years that I detested. I wasted too much time during those years. And that’s on me. And it won’t happen again. I know what I love to do, and I don’t think I’ll ever be some “big-time actor,” but I do think I’ll find a way to make a living doing what I love to do. God gifted me for this, and He closed a whole lot of other doors that made way better sense. So here I am.
.
This past Sunday at church, we sang one of my favorite songs. The final lyrics say
“Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
So I’m not gonna stay down. I’m gonna stand. I’m gonna keep getting back in the game. I’m gonna keep slugging back every time life punches me in the face. And I’m gonna grin while I do it.
Onward and upward, my friends.

Father’s Day

Dad, I need to say thanks for some things:
you taught me to throw a baseball,
you taught me the hook shot,
you taught me to ride a motorcycle,
you taught me to shoot a gun,
you taught me to polish shoes,
you made me learn to change the oil and change a tire,
you taught me that chivalry isn’t dead yet,
you taught me that if you wear something with confidence, it never goes out of style (those plaid pants though),
you gave me a love for literature (although hearing “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” at six years old is still seared in my brain),
you pushed, nay, demanded that I write (all my awards and scholarships, I owe to you),
you took me out in nature and acted like it was completely normal when I was a hundred feet up in a tree,
you held the ladder that time I grabbed a live wire, and–while I stared at the third degree electrical burns on my hands–calmly looked up and asked, “you okay?”
the first time a girl gave me her number you said “good job. you gonna call her?” then walked off,
you took my brothers and me on late night runs into town when you just had to have some pizza,
you cooked up burgers at midnight (if I die ten years early, it will have been worth every greasy minute).

You were the first person to make me stand up and perform,
you demanded excellence,
you didn’t complain,
and I know it’s been rocky,
and we’ve butted heads,
but things are better now, and I’m glad–
I’m glad that on this crazy ride of a life,
I get to call you Dad.
dad