INSOMNIA

Insomnia: Also known as sleeplessness, the difficulty of falling or staying asleep caused by a wide array of medical or psychological issues including stress, depression, and trauma.

Often do I dream of my father. Though I have not seen him, nor heard his voice in many years, nearly every night when I close my eyes…he is there. There, in the house where I was unmade.

There is always the house. Always the cold pale blue of wild eyes.

In my youth the dreams of him were much like my waking life; I am a child, cowering in a corner against the onslaught of a rabid wolf who seeks to consume his children. And how the beast did bite. Festering fangs seep poison in my veins that will find root and grow. I was never so tiny as I was against that titan. In my dreams, I can’t speak. He has stolen my voice and it will take me a lifetime to find it again. I am reduced to utter nothingness, my strength stripped off my skin by the lashes of a forked tongue. With all of me, I hate him for making me so weak. Soon, I will come to hate myself for my weakness.

Out of spite, out of instinct, and absolute necessity I grow; contorted but uncompromising. I vow to myself I will never be weak again. I lie to myself until it becomes the truth.

Years pass. I am finally strong and I want him to know. In nightmares more vivid than any day I throw my father into the walls of the house until they break. I want them both to feel this. My fists pummel those cold blue eyes shut; he feels it. The poison pumps fetid and scalding, and I am too blinded by it’s rage to see I have become a beast–just like him. I have finally claimed my inheritance.

In those dark days of hate, my nights rang with thunder and a terrible war. There was never any semblance of victory. Each morning I only woke with a terrible ache in my heart; the wake of which hits harder than any pain we authored against the other.

My father may have laid the foundation for a terrible future for myself, but here I was…ever the architect, still building this temple to worship the anger I’d come to love. I will be a man before I tear it all down, going gray as I kill the god I’d learn to pray to.

The eyes he gave me saw the world with magnificent malignance, so I tore them out. With new eyes, I gaze upon the battered form of my old man. No longer the giant I remember, he is a small and frail thing now. In my dreams, there is no more war. In our armistice I speak with my chest, my words no longer dripping with the venom he put in my veins. I ask him questions, so many questions that even with my newfound strength I still buckle under the weight of them. I implore my father to help me lift this burden. I am begging him and he will not answer me. He has already given me everything he has.

He is mute. The ice in his cold eyes melt into a wrinkled, broken face full of such sad smiles and an undying pride that does not permit those tears to fall. The rabid wolf has final succumbed to it’s festering disease; this is defeat. He never sought treatment, because to admit there was illness would mean there was a flaw. Our curse took my father long ago; whoever that man is now, I do not know him. I only know the circle must be broken.

I mourn him and all that could have been. I have bled the poison out that was consuming me in his honor. I harbor no more hatred in my heart. There remains only a great gutting sense of pity and, in spite of my most monstrous efforts, an undying note of longing in a song I’ll never stop singing.

The dreams still visit me, drifting in on quiet nights when my heart has no vacancy. There is always the house. Always the cold pale blue of my father’s eyes.


Most nights I just fight the sleep.

ian gallows ©

It Comes at Night

I whispered,
“It’s the sweetest thing,
so I have been told.
But my love has all the value of dirt
where only crooked things seem to grow.”

Then you turned to me and said,
“My dear, to those who dwell in deserts
fertile soil is worth more than gold.”

But how could I hear you
when I wasn’t ready to learn?
I was back amidst the arid lands
you dared to speak of;
as if that alabaster skin ever knew
what it was like to burn.

As I drowned
in the frozen waves of those dying dunes
yearning for a shore they will never touch,
your hands reached out to bring me back to you.
Your faltering fingers only certain
that they pointed towards the truth.

But I recoiled,
protecting soft spots
as if you were trying to sink your teeth into my throat.
I will never forget that look on your face.
How those eyes quaked so loudly
they damn near spoke,
“I will never again see you the same.”
And no map on Earth would ever lead me back
to the treasure of that sacred place.

In my wild youth these eyes were all but blind.
Your gifts came in unfamiliar shapes
wrapped in colors I didn’t recognize.
You tried to teach me there was nothing left to fight,
but I was raised on savage sands
to take what is mine;
and what am I without my knives?
You saw how my skin was burned
from the desert I barely survived.
When you offered me the shelter of your sacred shade
my instincts could only scream at me to take flight.
I mistook your love for the all the dangers
that used to come for me in the night.

ian gallows ©

The Tempest and The Tapestry

I look back at all you and I sewed together. How all we could make then with hands only taught to shape fists was a tattered tapestry that barely warmed either of us. Even huddled together we still froze. United only by the cold, we told each other love was simply the act of suffering the storm. So I did not waver against your hurricanes and you screamed louder than my thunder ever could. Until our tempest shattered us both with a force no mountain could have withstood. Scattered to a distance only fathomable in dreams; our hands still grasping tight the cloth as we ripped it apart at the seams.

You’ve come back to me again under clearer skies to make me gaze upon what remains of the work we made. After all these years still clutching your half of the fabric like some treasured memory. And I am wrought with shame that I was ever capable of making such a thing. For though these hands had to be broken to undo their teachings; I am armed now with stronger bones. If only I could show you how to unfurl your fingers and finally let go. But still you hold fast to what warmth it brings.

ian gallows ©

The Thirst

Death decorates the dunes with trinkets bleached white and gifts rings of bones to it’s eternal bride. Here, under the bluest of skies, life only survives. Nothing is offered, there is only the taking by those with knives. Soft eyes unsinged by the savage sun call this cruelty, for they have never known the fight. I look to the creatures birthed to these merciless sands and call them my kind. The engine roars and devours the divides of the highway to escape the land so blessed but oh, so cursed.

You may leave this place, but those born to deserts never forget the thirst.

EMBERS

There was once a time when I lived for whatever moments I could steal with you. I became the greatest of thieves. Hoarding memories like riches, precious metals that now seem such a curse to hold. Currency from a civilization now all but dust. Like all careless outlaws, my crimes caught up to me. In this cell, I tell myself I gladly pay the sentence for these gifts I have stolen. Though as the tallies on the walls grow longer to mark the passing of days, I am certain that regret will visit me with temptations I cannot refuse. 

No one held a candle to the flame you lit in me. I told you that once. I see now, I kept myself in a dark room and gave you the only key; any light would have been blinding when that door opened. My eyes grown dim so used to the black.

I didn’t know how to do this without you. Such is the wake of separation. No longer will we be crutches for each other, we told ourselves. In the letters I will never send I wrote, “I have rubbed my body red and raw trying to wash you off my skin, but you’re a bullet buried in my spine. To take you out would leave me paralyzed.” 

I can’t recall who fired the gun. With whiskey, distance, and long days poured over the entry point I performed the surgery and hung the shrapnel as a trophy. Static limbs that languished in atrophy will soon give way and crawl. One day I will walk, and even run without you. I am uncertain if that will just bring a new kind of pain; I only know life goes on. Time is the dog that licks all wounds and I now count you among the greatest of my many scars.

I held a vacancy in me that dared to dream that I’d read these letters to you aloud someday in some far off summer. Sleep was the only thing that brought you back to me. It’s that part of me, the part that dreams that needs to wither away someplace far below the surface; like an old mongrel that seeks its end beneath the boards of a house, alone. This boiled over and spilled into every floor of my life. A life that creaks and groans with so many other leaks in all it’s chambers that I feel as if I’d drown were I not so adept at keeping my head above water.

You became this pillar in my life that held up something that was more than just a shelter. In that place you taught me so many things that I thought myself truly incapable; I can never thank you enough for exposing me as the great liar I had become. But now, that column has collapsed; the roof has caved in. It is winter and I am cold, and I can never again go to you for warmth. 

So I retreat deep within the halls of myself, to the room I kept for you. To find the embers I kept barely alive to find your way back to me. I snuff the last wick in a place that once blinded me with lights. It is dark now, as it always should have been. I lock the door with singed fingers.

I am a house full of empty rooms.

P H A N T O M

So I fell.

Long did I linger in the crater of collapse. I made shelter amidst the scorched earth and haunted the place I learned to call home. A spirit that languished in a past it could not move pass. Cursed to relive all the minutes in the many hours that made me what I am.

I took my time like it was something owed to me. Licking wounds so compulsively the very act of healing kept injuries from ever closing. What was one more scar among an already flagellated body? I was made to believe I was my wounds. That all I suffered, was all I had to offer; thus I was valueless. Unloved, to be discarded. Someone else’s lies became my truths and I called myself an honest man.

I was a ghost passing straight through the things I yearned to touch. People slipped between my fingers like water and dripped out of my life into polluted rivers of memory, only to be forgotten by a heartless sea. These hands never taught to hold, there was only the act of letting go. Such was my purgatory. Neither saved, nor damned, just a phantom to be forgotten. Until I saw my future in that place, and found that there was none.

So I took my body and possessed myself again. Bringing new life back into atrophied limbs, reminding them the strength of their grip as I lifted the burdened boulder of existence willingly up this mountain that knows no peak. Aware there may never be a period of peace. I may always be at war against this, but what greater fight is there?

Rise and rise
and rise again
and again,
in a baptism of ashes.

I forgive what there is to be forgiven, for I must travel light. I pardon those who have wronged me, for they too were once children of God. Embraced, not in grace, but marked and broken in their Father’s image before the age of reason. Thus traumas transcend time, like chains linked from their beginnings to ours in forges whose fires are kept bright and burning generation after generation in hatred and anger. So I came to love my legacy. I inherited these rusted irons and melted them down into armor. My daughters will have their shield and my sons hands will be bound no more.

The words I used to curse myself, they were never mine. I thought myself damned and made that hell so loud I heard nothing else but my own fire for a lifetime. Until someone showed me all those lies I thought were true. How they wore my face but spoke in my father’s voice. I had to learn how to speak all over again until those voices belonged to me. Kindness was once a foreign language, now my tongue is fluent and it has tasted salvation. Ever since then, it has finally been quiet. Life grows anew among the blackened soil and soon, it will be green again.

Moments of Collapse

I awoke that day to the familiar patter of footsteps pacing the hardwood floors. But that morning, the steps were hurried and palpably manic. I opened my door to find my friend pacing the house with a phone to her ear and tears on her cheeks.

“Larry just died,” she said.

Larry. Her mother’s partner. An old oak of a man whose main method of communication was a series of grunts, scoffs, and dismissive waves. Visibly racked with a pain only a dying man can feel, no one ever questioned the brevity of his speech. He dwelled in a space of solitary that young people reserve for the old; kept at a respectable distance for to be any closer would remind them of the fate that awaits their spry joints and quick limbs.

“Larry is dead…”

The words washed over me with little sensation. A breeze through an open door, subtle and fleeting. I didn’t know him. He was but a fixture in a house to me. Someone I didn’t sit near or speak to besides whatever cheap courtesies I could afford. A nod. Hello. Goodbye.

He gave up the ghost a little after dawn. And in that sunrise I learned that you never really know when your last goodbye is for good.

As I watched my friend crumble before me, my male mind raced with solutions on how to fix a problem I’d never solve. In the wake of my helplessness I knew only that I should be there for her. So when she finally got in the car, I got in the fucking car too.

Her mother’s house was not the home I remembered. It was stirring with an unsettling static in the atmosphere, like something had been sucked out of the walls.  The yelling, the barking, the screaming, all the laughter, that chorus clamor of an affectionately dysfunctional family…it wasn’t there. The music of the house had dwindled to a mumbled lament. Not even the dogs made a sound. For the first time, I entered that house and was greeted by a stranger named Silence.

My friend walked up to her mother, whose face immediately swelled with tears like a dry wood that touches water. They held each other and their grief. I stood in the doorway and felt the pressure of something I didn’t know how to articulate then. I touched their shoulders in quiet consolation as they shook under the weight of their sobbing. I left them to their mourning without a word.

I walked down the long hall. My feet moved, driven with a purpose all their own. I had been down that hall I don’t know many times before; ushered by screaming children chased by panting dogs. Walking alone then, the hall suddenly felt so much wider than I remembered. I found my feet in front of his door. Beyond was a place I had never been, in every sense of what that could mean. I didn’t know what was on the other side but my body took me there, and I followed.

Larry’s bedroom was a simple and quiet place. A fine reflection of what I had seen of his character. The walls were completely unadorned, save for a few scattered photographs. Strange and familiar faces inside of small frames. Another family. Another life. A solitary window faced the street where the early morning sunlight began creeping in.

The light and I found him, sitting in a chair in the corner of the cold room; his head resting in his chest. His hands curled atop his lap where a blanket lay falling off his legs. The old man looked like he was just sleeping.

Almost like a spotlight, the sun stole into the room. The rays caused the naked white walls to shine brilliantly as they touched the atrophied limbs of the body in front of me. Almost heavenly, in a way–if, after all this time, you still believed in such things.

I had never seen a dead body before. It’s something your eyes see, plain as sunlight, but your mind struggles to grasp the concept. This person is gone; even with their body right in front of you, somehow you know they aren’t here anymore.

And yet, his peaceful countenance stirred in me a sense of disbelief. What if he is just sleeping? What if he isn’t dead?

With a steady hand I placed my fingers upon the life vein in his throat, searching for a semblance of a pulse. His body had already begun to atrophy and grow stiff. It felt as if human skin had been stretched across the bark of a tree. His pulse answered me as a statue would. I felt his chest for a heart beat but it’s measure was over. No breath. No movement behind the closed veils of his eyes.

In the hallway, I could hear the women he left behind crying. Sadness was in the walls and the house seemed to creak in response. I found his bed without any real thought and slowly sat down. I don’t know how long I stared at him. I can only tell you I could not look away. Neither fascinated nor disturbed. Not afraid nor really brave. I only felt this great sense of…nothing.

I felt nothing.

“Where’d you go, old man?” I asked him as I smiled to myself. Realizing then what a great joke this had just become. I just said more to this man in death than I think ever had in life. That distance I kept him at, would that I have closed the gap.

”I want to believe you went somewhere. Somewhere better, I do…” Conflicted with my own beliefs of the existence of an afterlife, talking to what was left of that old tree named Larry, I felt something then. I couldn’t tell you what it was. I could only tell you it was there.

I remember hearing once that when stars die they collapse under the weight of their own gravity. The star erupts, and when the dust settles what remains of the star and its energy coalesces around it’s former orbit to form a nebula. In that room I felt a pressure then, of a star that had gone out in a tiny universe with four white walls. And there is poetry there that I will forever struggle to properly articulate.

As I stared at the body of what used to be a husband, a son, a father, I noticed he had drool slowly falling from his mouth down the side of his great wrinkled face. It made him look particularly infantile. Regressed in death, to the stage of his birth. I took a rag and gently wiped away the spit. I took his blanket and covered him up to his neck. He didn’t seem so frail then. Just a man lost to a forever kind of dream.

And then I left him. To be mourned and seen by what people knew him. One by one his people began to visit the house to pay their respects and be there for one and another in their own way. They all began to regale stories of the old oak. His grumpiness was comical to most and to my surprise, he was quite a rambunctious soul. Had you only took the time to know him, he’d have talked to you. He might have even made you laugh. Scoffed at your youth and then, perhaps, shared some wisdom purchased at the cost of all his years.

And you couldn’t help but wonder, who will be there when my body is found? Will I make it to old age? Will I be so lucky, to pass quietly into that good night? Will they speak as fondly of me? You can only hope and strive to be that for people; a source of fond remembrance. In that crowded room in our wake, I couldn’t help but think that in the face of death, you can only live in spite of it. In truth, is that not life’s greatest rebellion?

As the house began to fill, I took a seat next to a friend, the youngest daughter of the now widowed Mother. She was holding in her arms her newborn niece, Mary Anne, swathed in a blanket and clutched at her breast. I sat next to these two beautiful creatures and my weary eyes just rested a while in their innocent countenance. Little Mary Anne, being fawned and awed by a love struck teenager.

Such life existed now in this house where, only moments ago, was only a vacuum of sorrow. Our own little rebellion, if we had anything to say about it. I edged closer to them and dove into Mary’s eyes. These great blue pools of curiosity teeming with wonder and contemplation. Searching the room until they found you. And then you just drown in there. You really do.

I reached out and touched her soft, porcelain hands and she grabbed my finger with a strength I didn’t know an infant could possess. In that moment, I can tell you, I felt something; love. This sudden unwavering desire for nothing but all the good of the world to befall this creature.

That feeling, it grips me as tight as her hold on my finger and does not let go. As I am swimming in her eyes, I see her begin to drool a bit. Her spittle falling gracefully over her face, I grab some napkins and wipe it all away from the cherub ever so softly. I wipe until her face is clean and ready to be admired. And then, I laughed. I didn’t know what else I could possibly do but laugh.

Of Bones and Blood

It’s not enough.

It’s never enough.

A brilliant star collapsed inside my gut
and it’s a hole that since
has never shut.
It takes,
it breaks,
and it unmakes
in a fever of bones and blood–
and even though I know,
I know,
I cannot endure this storm alone.

As if pain were a tree you diligently water,
for the shade of its branches
has been all you’ve known of shelter.

– I. G A L L O W S
November 3rd, 2016

The Carousel

I

My life has become a carousel.

A beautiful ride. A brightly lit amusement teetering along a set axis of imaginary lines.

Thoughts turn to memories and memories to translucent dreams as a familiar tune I know now all too well sings just for me. Under the alluring spell of nostalgia, soothed by the smooth porcelain hands of familiarity, I am anchored in the deceit I sell myself that this is what it means to be free.

The comforting weight of knowing that today will spin on forever, keeps me in place.

Tomorrow becomes a forgotten friend I told secrets to in the spring of my youth. Under canopies where we carved our names into towering titans whose changing foliage was our only sense of time. When we ran naked and wild in limitless fields of our imaginations and flew about with invisible wings.

And now, we dream digital dreams birthed from the wombs of screens. The Gods and their magics have all faded away, starved out in disbelief. Pregnant with the knowledge this age of wisdom brings, tomorrow seems a happily never after just beyond my reach. Like the limbs of impossible trees that taunted me in that childhood of virgin spring.

I am far from my jungles now, lost in the crowd of a parade called, “Someday”.

These painted horses and magical seats find me and carry me aloft. Destination: unknown, yet certainly familiar. For the everyday happens every day. Again and again and again. Seasons merge into seasons at an accelerating pace. Years skip along the rippling surface of time like weeks, never sinking; still finding me in the same place.

And when I lay my heavy head down again, that song becomes a lullaby and on whatever surface my body finds tonight, I will dream the same thing; of a life I don’t constantly feel the need to escape from,

And the dream remains a dream.

II

Then, dawn finds me again.

All fades and recedes like the black curtain of night, as I get back on the carousel stage.

Allured by it’s siren song and captivating lights, blinded to all else that would enter my sight, the ride will cough and sputter to life. The circular motion provides an illusion of progression. I am moving, if only further from the point of origin that was myself. The wind is in my hair and the lights dance about like fire flies in a Southern night. Artificial stars guiding me to a destination I’ll never find.

A rat in a wheel aware that it serves, in spite…

Be still, my rampant mind.

For it’s all…

just a ride.

III

And this,

this is goodbye.

For I am that which must collide to break the constant spinning of cycles.

Farewell, ye well oiled machines, whose machinations are beyond me. Whose design produces assembly line drones and counterpart white collar clones existing in living limbo on the fresh cut lawns of suburban purgatory.  You, who sour the Earth with pollutions that poison the imaginations of minds and darken the native born, holy exuberance of men’s souls!

They sold a Nightmare donning the mask of a Dream with tickets bought by those lost in perpetual sleep. Our dreams orphaned on a busy street. I cradle my newly adopted son of insomnia.

Farewell to the painted horses whose instinctual trajectory brought me to memorable places I have since forgotten. The people I passed by passing through. Out of focus, brightly colored silhouettes who painted a picture a thousand others could paint rather than signing their masterpieces with scar or stain. Momentary loss for temporary gain. Spinning each other around, again and again.

The innumerable static distractions and few starving affections. The angel choir chorus of slapping skin and creaking mattress; spun round the willing impostors to an endless waltz and grand skeletal ballet. Spinning in pretty circles until the scenery recycles.

Allow me to forget the steps. The modern dance of romance that leaves me dizzy for the band is always off time and off key.

Rapturous melody! Oh, harmonious discord! Fill my lungs and teach me a new song!

Or, let the music stop.

Turn the fire flies off.

Enrapture me in silence and cloak me in a void,
So that I may find my voice.
Leave me deaf and leave me blind.
So that among the muted progression of seven billion songs screaming towards heaven I can find myself in this passage of time.

– I. G A L L O W S
December 3rd, 2012