Strange Ceremonies

His coworkers were worried by him.

The way he would disappear to the window around noon to stare
for what felt like timeless hours
at the orchid while it soaked up the sun
placing his hands on each side of the vase
closing his eyes with intention
and humming.

It was ritualistic
in an otherwise bleak uninterested environment.

He might as well have performed
an ayahuasca ceremony in the middle of the conference room.

He didn’t really care that he made anyone uncomfortable.

There was a certain freedom in understanding that when you are true
it is very often going to tug at the thin stretchy strings of the plastic mask of society
it is very often going to leave people quiet on their nighttime commutes
back into their caves to sit around fires
performing ayahuasca ceremonies
or alternatively microwaving a hot pocket and watching Maury until they fall dead asleep.

What ceremonies are strange after all?


You’ve caught me in your net, my dear.
I’m not struggling I’m just begging for more food.
I’m napping and dreaming of never leaving your doorstep.
I’m napping and dreaming of your blood running down my chin.
I’m chaotic neutral punchy dry lovely motherfucker these days.
The way I smile around the grocery store with pound after pound of red meat
filling up my shopping cart.
And you fill me up.
With love and anger and the messy mix between the two.
I’m crunching numbers with my canines.
I’m sleepless and waking up behind dumpsters in Cap Hill.
There’s smashed glass on my bedroom floor.
There’s ropes tied to the side of my bed tied there to hold me down.
And ain’t nothing gonna hold me down.
I daydream about biting into your thighs, swallowing your moans.
I would kill just to taste you again.

Good Question

What has your heart? What has the keyring with
innumerable different keys to different chambers
of your heart? What holds your moon in your sky?
What kisses you like comfort? What floats above
your bed at night? What burns up the back of your
eyes? What sugar do you taste on your tongue?
What love is full? What do you feel when you are
alone? Are you ever truly alone? Do you understand
that we are god? Do you understand that there are
severe and important implications to us being god?
Do you understand that childhood is a construct?
That school has only gotten larger. That growth has
only gotten larger. That we continue to exceed the
size of our goldfish bowls? Do you understand you
are a goldfish? Do you realize that there is truth and
there is your truth? Do you realize that your truth is
a beautiful thing to hold?

Never let go.

String together questions
like fragments of a kite string.

Watch it climb higher
and higher and higher
and higher.

Watch it disappear
into your sky.

And then let go.

poem for a corporate houseplant

hello, corporate houseplant.

it is me, your caretaker.

i wanted to talk to you because
you seem to be doing so well
in this bleak corporate environment
you seem to be thriving.

it was just earlier this week
following our monthly all team meeting
that you began to bloom a new aloe leaf
accompanying now your other aloe leaves
some of which pour out the side of your pot
as if they are reaching
slowly reaching
painfully slowly reaching for something
i don’t know what.

sometimes i daydream.

sometimes i imagine you,
corporate houseplant,
grown sentient
dragging yourself by your aloe leaves
across the long white empty desks
and to the big glass window
overlooking the southwest parking lot.

i imagine you holding your breath
and jumping from the windowsill
and falling to the ground i can feel your elation
thinking softly
i’m free i’m free i’m free
and then a kind of death
your fragile glass home
smashed in large pieces
against the concrete sidewalk
your roots grown cold and useless
with no dirt to latch on to
and no one to water you.

but then you float.

a ghostplant you float
up into the sky
where you ascend
into some strange heaven
for corporate houseplants
to do this again
and again
and again.

hello, corporate houseplant.

Talking to God Over Shitty Coffee at Denny’s

like two in the morning or something
i couldn’t sleep so i called up God
and was all like “hey God,
do you want to meet up for some coffee?”
and God of course obliged me like always
so we’re sitting around Denny’s
drinking shitty coffee talking when i ask God
“is destiny a thing?”and God says “yes,”
and i say “that’s kind of a bummer,”
and God says “well, i don’t think that doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of the decisions you make,”
and i say “i guess,”

and then there’s an awkward pause,
the waitress comes by
refills our coffees
and we sip in silence and then i say
“alright, God, what number am i thinking of?”
God says 3.
it was 3.
What am I thinking now?
God says i’m thinking about destiny
and i was like
well yeah okay that might not have been the
best approach and then i took the salt shaker unscrewed the lid and poured the entire thing of salt into my cup of coffee.
God says “why did you do that?”
and i say “you seem surprised.
i thought you knew that i was going to do that? wasn’t it part of my destiny?”
and God was like
“no – that shit just came out of nowhere.”
i think God would have turned to God for answers in that moment if that made any sense.
and then i held God’s hand
and i said
look. i know what they say.
man plans and God laughs and that’s beautiful
but sometimes we just take the car off cruise
control and we start driving off the road in the middle of Nebraska and we’re pushing through the corn fields and doing donuts and blasting dizzy gillespie and it makes no damn sense and no one could have seen it coming, not even you, i’m sorry, but that’s why i put the salt in the coffee because some things weren’t written.
some things happen that weren’t meant to happen and those things were meant to happen but not in the sense that everyone saw it coming because
sometimes no one sees it coming.
even you, God.
sometimes it’s brutal and vicious hard work or a spark to the heart and it’s raw and honest and it’s tangential and that tangent shoots off into space like a monkey in an astronaut suit and it forms a new monkey planet with a new monkey God who too will have a moment of awe when realizing that your
children are not you.
they break the rules in the name of something.
or change
or dizzy gillespie
but yes.
it’s a thing that happens and it’ll catch us all off guard.

and then the waitress stole the cash in the register, took off her apron and busted out the door into the cold night.

This poem was also featured on Rocky Mountain Revival if you’d care to give it a listen.

Sinatra on the Moon

i’m trapped on the moon with a bottle of whiskey
i’m sitting in a lawn chair watching the earth
rotate around the sun and it reminds me of the way
we used to dance together, in strange jazz clubs
whose names i don’t remember, i could never remember
i remember the way we reclined our car seats back
and pretended to stare at the stars, when in truth
we were just staring at the ceiling of the car
where the cigarette smoke had eaten away at the fabric

how things have changed
your spaceship left long ago, at my request
and i awoke from dreams that i had sent you away
from earth, only to learn you had left me on the moon
trapped on the moon with a bottle of whiskey
i’m sitting in a lawn chair watching the cell phone satellites
hover around the twittersphere, swing around the blogosphere
the big blue ocean and the waves that crash that mean nothing
to me but form the sand that forms the glass window
you maybe stare out like some cheesy fifties movie or something
at the moon, the full moon or maybe the absent moon
i don’t know, but we could be staring at one another
but maybe that’s just the whiskey talking
and to think i almost didn’t bring the whiskey with me
the only thing that could have made the moon more lonely

i feel like frank sinatra up here in the stratosphere
not charming, young sinatra
washed up smoked stained suit sinatra
sinatra knowing he will never sleep with a woman again
as beautiful as you were in that red dress at that ball
in new york city on new year’s eve in america on earth
the sinatra who proudly proclaims the glass of whiskey
in his hand and shares with the audience that he is
in fact, quite belligerent, and when life gives you lemons
you take the first spaceship up to the moon
so you can sit forever and collect your thoughts over whiskey
which, of course, are muddled like a weird trumpet solo
like when the band drops off and there’s no drums and no nothing
just miles davis solo romantic silent – listen, just shut up and listen

i’m trapped on the moon with a bottle of whiskey
and earth is this gem that i used to own
that i auctioned off in exchange for an eternity of quiet
endless space, endless silence, peace and god damn quiet

peace and god damn quiet.

A Study of Two American Human Beings

| an american human being | for our purposes let’s call them human being #1 | walks down the right side of a pathway as they approach another human being – presumably american as well | but human being #2 seems to be unflinchingly dedicated to walking on the left side of the road thus interfering with the preset trajectory of human being #1 (from the perspective of course of human being #1) | what does one do? | at first human being #1 is dedicated to its path | it remains in pursuit of its value of a system which is beneficial to every human being | or at least every american human being | but alas – human being #2 may not be american | human being #2 may come from a sector of humanity that has predetermined the left side of the road as the agreeance of the collective consciousness | the two human beings are faced in opposition on values that they have determined to be not only best for their own good but objectively for the efficiency and the betterment of the human race as a whole | time continues onward one second at a time | they meet face to face | in an attempt to veer in different direction they ultimately step to the same side once again blocking the lineage of one another | of course instinctively they then veer in the opposite direction | they both smile and exchange pleasantries | oh pardon me | oh excuse me | they bump | a chemical known as adrenaline rushes into each human being | they clash | chemicals release in the brains of the two humans and they begin to bicker | their body language tenses and they begin to shout at one another | both human beings finding themselves in the right (or left) have both been pressed with an age old question of fight or flight | both have opted for fight | punches are thrown | there is shoving and one human – irrelevant which one – falls down to the pathway | blood is emitted from the fallen human being onto the pathway | they experience pain | the other human being experiences guilt and regret | they flee | somewhere else two human beings in reaction to high levels of serotonin opt to press their lips and motion them in rhythmic friction against one another in what is commonly referred to as kissing | somewhere else a human being is born | somewhere else a human being passes into death and they are not thinking about whether or not they chose the correct side of any singular pathway to walk down | somewhere else a bird flies with no concept of pathways | somewhere else is conflict and the presence of the material world and potentially the divine in the mathematical processing of what will ensue in a causal continuance of events | dominoes | if that’s how you think about these sort of things |

Swift Deep Punches: A Review of Steven Dunn’s Potted Meat


I’ve met Steven Dunn only one time. He was smoking a cigarette outside of the Mercury Cafe after the locally renowned F Bomb Flash Fiction Open Mic. He told me and a group huddled up in the cold how his book had recently been picked up for publication. He spoke humbly about it, but you could see the excitement in his face through it all; the cold, the lights of the Mercury Cafe hanging over us, the cigarette smoke.

The book, published by Tarpaulin Sky Press, is called Potted Meat, a novel in the form of a few dozen short stories, and I can tell you from my weekly recommendations of it to friends, family, strangers on the light rail, anyone willing to listen really, that the title garners some interesting reactions. People have said everything to me from “What the heck is potted meat?” to “Gross…”

To all of them, I reaffirm, “I know, but read the book.”

The cover art, pictured above, is no less off-putting. It would be sleek and almost sexy if not for the giant chunk of meat with strangeness protruding from it at all angles. In my opinion, Dunn couldn’t have picked a better title and image for his first novel – which is as sentimental as it is jarring.

Through the short episodic pieces in Potted Meat, Dunn establishes a narrative of coming-of-age in West Virginia. One such story is “Happy Little Trees” which Dunn begins:

Bob Ross is on. He has paint. I don’t.

These short sentences comprise a large part of the novel. Simple, but full of strong, cut-and-dry imagery. Swift, deep punches that minimalist writers like Hemingway would be proud of. Dunn goes on to describe how he pulls in whatever he can from nature, including grasshoppers for green ink, and dandelions for yellow ink, to make up for his lack of paint. Even in the gritty images of a young boy desperate enough for colors that he is eating bugs, we begin to see a picture of what growing up without might have looked like for Dunn. A theme continued in several instances, including the eating of the titular potted meat.

Jumping into the novel, short stories like “Happy Little Trees” might seem random, but it’s a mistake to think that Dunn doesn’t want to leave the reader with a certain sense of confusion. Where the real power in Potted Meat comes into play is when the images that Dunn has written into your memory in permanent ink come back to bite you in the butt. One such example is in “Yellow” where Dunn retells the story of finding his grandmother had died. When asking his mom what happened she says “…she just turned yellow and died.” Dunn, in response, vows “to never eat dandelions again.”

Dunn’s language is the kind of simple that when you’re done with the novel you might think to yourself, “I could have written that,” but the amount of power in the intentionally terse and often child-like language of the book is something that is not so easily filtered from head to paper. Between the short sentences, the anecdotal reprisal of memories and the dark humor hiding beneath Dunn’s matter-of-fact presentation is a true craft and authenticity that can drive any reader to care about the day-to-day plight of a young boy coming of age through all sorts of strange adversity.

I think back to meeting Dunn before ever reading this breakthrough novel. I think about the humble way he took drags from that cigarette, shirking off our excitement of the news of his book finding a publisher. That humility, that quiet genius is what sneaks up on you in each intentional word and each short story, some of which are no longer than a page, between the front and back cover of Potted Meat. Steven Dunn has created something worthwhile that shows a true dedication to capturing the feelings of his childhood and putting them in a small tin can for us to digest, one harsh bite at a time. I guess, in short,

Steven Dunn is on. His writing has paint. Yours don’t.

Purchase Potted Meat