The Anatomy of a 29 Year Old Human (2017)

*just about every year on my birthday I write an “Anatomy of a … Year Old” poem. Thank you for reading.

i am a giant lizard monster
trying to lay down comfortably in a sprawling metropolis but the buildings scratch at my back

the cars pierce my feet like legos

i fold myself ragdoll into a suitcase in attempt to be smaller
i’ve tried my hand at big, i wish to be little

i stare into the mirror but it’s not a mirror
it’s the ghost of marley and he’s eating my cereal

he tells me i need to grow out my beard again

he reminds me i am a joshua tree at the end of the western world
he reminds me that it is crucial that i push through heavy desert ground

my veins are filled with marathon runners sprinting but only when it’s dark out
i’ve begun to name the avenues they run down, federal, larimer, colfax

rush hour is a real bitch
my hands shake at the horns honking screaming for attention

i’ve spent twenty eight years sawing myself in half for the big audience
i want to spend the next twenty eight sewn together

maybe salinger, alone in a boat in the middle of a forest

maybe vincent, a militia of mad men in the fields of anxiety

there is hair in my ears and when i was signing my contract this was not mentioned
television led me to believe that this corresponded with twilight years

meanwhile the movies led me to believe i would be a wealthy philanthropist batperson by now
i conveniently ignore al bundy’s belly, his thin hair, his vicious kmart realism

my eyes are the brownest they have ever been
this is good

this is spirit in form
petrified wood to be built into rocking chair conversations and tobacco pipes

i am seeking a clean definition of masculinity
and my femininity is my best hope to get there

there is goldfish in a glass bowl lodged in my heart
i still haven’t figured out what that’s all about but i feed it pellets

i remember that though the castle it swims around is small it is still a castle
and the castle is me and the goldfish is the music of it all

i’m confused
i’ve wrapped myself up in ace bandages but i’m not injured

i decide to play a mummy because for a brief minute this year i was a pharaoh
and now all i want is to be surrounded by true gold and sleep sleep sleep

and wake up thirty and haunt the shit out of these fuckers for at least a few more

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WOLF.

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.

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
debateably

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

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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

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