Three AM

Three AM and I’m awake

Champagne raindrops in my eye

Tumbling down my parchment cheek

Tripping towards the amber sky


Stepping forward, stepping back

Drumbeats in my rattled knees

On the floor my hinges creak

Out the door for summer breeze


I don’t know you, but we’ve met

Somewhere in the body maze

Morning never looked so bleak

Stumble through the midnight haze


Six feet under neon lights

Thunder rumbles in my chest

We can sway but never speak

This is how you like me best


Hearts are pounding, faces bored

Red-hot venom down the hatch

You are strong and I am weak

You’re the striker, I’m the match


If you want me, love me not

Leave me when the sun is up

Silence settles, off you sneak

Champagne raindrops in my cup

On This, My Twenty-First Birthday

Those of you who know me will know that I only really like to talk about three things: crying, novels involving magical powers, and men. I think the unifying theme here is fantasy – things I want but can’t have, unless I’m drunk and it’s after 2 AM, in which case I will have those things whether I want them or not, sometimes all at once. Not the powers. Just the books. I mean, binge-reading Lord of the Rings for the seventeenth time and still wanting to marry Legolas is sort of like a magic power, I think. All I’m saying is, at this point it takes kind of a lot of effort to keep my love for Legolas burning as strongly it did when I was going through puberty. No, you guys – not Orlando Bloom. Legolas. We’re talking full-on elf. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is, I’m a fun person. Seriously fun. And I know how to think for myself. Like, if I’m standing at a crosswalk and the “walk” signal is red, but there are no cars coming, I’ll still cross the street. No permission, no nothing – just me, the open road, and a grounding sense of perspective. Why do we even have all these signs anyways, you know? Let’s get creative, people. Sometimes you just have to look the system in the face and laugh. Like, “Not today, urban planners. Not today. I don’t need you.”

I also have pretty strong predictive capabilities, like in the sense of having pretty solid foresight, so I guess that’s another superpower of mine. It’s a blessing and a curse. Get this: the first time I saw Donald Trump on the news, I knew he was going to take over the Republican party. That’s because I instantly feared and loathed him, like on a primal level. Anyone who reminded me that much of the boys I hated in middle school, I said, was bound to claw their way to the top of the mean kids’ heap eventually, probably sooner rather than later. Ask my friends. I said it then, and I’m saying it now. Guys like Trump have been acting like strong-man bully-gorilla-gnomes since kindergarten. He probably tortured cats when he was little. Oh yes: I recognized that face as soon as I met its angry, televised eyes, like a cross between my gym class nightmares and the racist uncle I never had but still feel indignant about. Can I just make a confession right now? Sometimes, I fear for my own safety. Let’s be real: I could totally get purged for writing stuff like this, like if Trump becomes president and pulls off his own Night of the Long Knives thing. I am likely in grave danger. But never you mind, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Just go. Save yourselves.

Anyway, enough about Donald Trump. Politics, shmolitics – it’s my birthday, right? And here I am. Twenty-one years young, and lighthearted as all get-out. But yeah, to be honest, I’m really not that fun. Unless neurotic is the new fun – which, according to every TV series targeting a millennial audience, it is. But seriously, things are worse than you’d think. With me, I mean. When the crosswalk sign is red and the street is empty, I literally pray for a car to come so I have an excuse not to jaywalk. I’m not a free spirit. For me, shirking responsibilities is kind of like eating Chick-fil-A: I do it every morning, and then I freak out and journal. Okay fine, who am I kidding? I don’t journal. What would I even write? It’d be like, “Dear Diary: How am I going to find a surrogate mother for my first baby? I’ve emailed Charlize Theron six times, and still no reply. Starting to lose hope. And even if Charlize said yes, could I? I mean, she is, like, uncannily blond. And South African. Wouldn’t the whole thing seem sort of racist? Like, nobody would say it, not out loud, but deep down everyone would be like, ‘Yup, he wants a blond baby. Knew it.’”

See – I can be funny. White people jokes are in right now, aren’t they? To be honest with you, I am just now learning how to laugh at myself comfortably. I think all white people are. I mean, for me it’s probably the sleep deprivation that’s giving me a sense of humor, more than the shift in public consciousness. Insomnia makes everything seem just unreal enough to be funny. There’s a hysterical edge to my laughter, yeah, but come on: this isn’t the 1920s and I can’t just chortle about my privilege without also regretting it and feeling hopeless. No, this is 2016, and we are better now. It may be my birthday, but I am keeping in mind that not everyone gets to have birthday parties. Like people in the Global South. They probably don’t have birthday parties. Kids there are sad, for sure. As an affluent, liberal man of my generation, I have learned to be the Nick Carraway to my internal Jay Gatsby, dragging my meekly critical gaze with me into any and every celebration I attend – including my own birthday party. I see the system of resource abuse here: decadence is totally generational. Whole dynasties of wasteful, sheltered party hosts. Intersectional decadence. It’s all geopolitical, you know? (No, like, it actually is. This is worse than we thought.) The more extravagant and ill-considered the festivities, the more guilt I feel, and the more champagne I drink. Can’t wait for my birthday party tonight. I’m planning to attend a roller disco, if, as my friend Julia says, “that’s even a thing here.” Nothing says “gentrification” like a roller disco, am I right?

If I could give a speech at said roller disco, it would go something like this: stumble, stumble. Here we go. Let’s start with three things I have liked in the past year of my life. Number one: coffee. It’s healthy, okay? It’s fine. I’m fine. Completely wired. Number two: I am twenty-one, and I still have the metabolism of Gumby. I cannot gain weight, and the more I eat, the more my body eats itself. I realize this is kind of a huge perk, and I am duly grateful. I also realize that I will never look like Brad Pitt in Troy, but hey, that’s okay, because who wants beautiful, round muscles anyways? Not me. I never wanted that. Not when I could look like a sweater-clad skeleton instead. Grad school, here I come. Number three: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her wisdom, her rulings, her hair. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been trying to get my hair to look like hers since I started college. What can I say? The journey of a thousand slicked-back hairs begins with a single fistful of pomade.

Okay, now for three things I have disliked in the past year. Number one: people who chew with their mouths open. The sound of your lips smacking together is definitely going to give me a stroke. That’s how I’m destined to go – I feel it in my bones (and I can pretty much see those through my shirt, so). Your bad manners will cause my death. But go ahead – enjoy yourself. Smack at my own risk. Number two: bad men. They’re bad. They’re men. I don’t like them. Enough said. Number three: people shrieking like banshees when they find out I don’t know about pop culture stuff. “What? Like, whaaaat?” No, I haven’t seen that movie. No, that show wasn’t “my childhood.” It isn’t “life.” I don’t know who that celebrity is, and I am not sorry. So please don’t scream, just accept it. I am a pop culture criminal – hear me roar – and I don’t have to watch anything on TV unless it’s related to wizards, Lena Dunham, or eighteenth- to twentieth-century England. Period. Period drama. Please. Right now.

Well, folks, that’s about all I have to say. In closing, I’ll borrow a few words from the eleventy-first birthday speech of my beloved Bilbo Baggins, illustrious hobbit of the Shire in the Third Age of Middle Earth: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve…Take care! …I am as happy as I have ever been, and that is saying a great deal.” Thank you for your kind birthday wishes, and thank you for caring enough about what I think to muddle through this lengthy blog post. I’m going to re-read Lord of the Rings now. Time for my fourth coffee of the day. Goodbye.

  • P.S. I wanted to share with you my twenty-first birthday song (if I may be so bold as to choose one), linked here from SoundCloud. It’s a rendition of Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush” by the organist James McVinnie.

Song of the Lonely Crone

Early morning, crack of dawn

Sunrise comes and passes on

Bluebirds sing in golden tones

So the dew won’t feel alone


Afternoon-time, sun is high

Clouds like icebergs cross the sky

Housecats nap, cicadas drone

So the sun won’t feel alone


Day is ending, stars come out

Crickets chirp and bullfrogs shout

Sandman crumbles sleeping-stone

So the dusk won’t feel alone


Late at night when I’m asleep

Oak trees creak and willows weep

Midnight branches sway and groan

So the moon won’t feel alone


Years can pass like falling leaves

Seasons whisper through the trees

Light a candle for the crone

So the crone won’t feel alone


Candle burning, summer-bright

Friend in autumn’s failing light

Making soft the winter’s bite

My springtime heart’s delight

Berlin #1

Just after my plane touched down at Berlin-Tegel airport, I wrote something immensely trite in the leather-bound journal which I bought for this trip and have since used all of two times, mentioning that although I had never actually been to Berlin, my arrival somehow felt like “a return.” In hindsight, I believe this was an attempt to remind myself that my German roots really do exist, to make them feel more tangible: a literary bid to escape the discomfort of entering life in a foreign country. Needless to say, this vague romantic notion – that of my arrival in Berlin being “a return” – did not pan out. All airplane landings feel like returns, as I certainly would have remembered if I’d thought about my own with less enthusiasm. After nine hours suspended in a chilly box thousands of feet above the earth, setting foot on pavement and feeling the wind in your face will of course fill anyone with a nostalgic sense of return. But this initial feeling of post-flight comfort, which I think can be called relief (relief to stand up straight without fear of reprimand or turbulence, relief to breathe real air, relief to escape the odor of the person sitting beside you), generally wears off in a matter of minutes. Too soon, the traveler must confront the fact that not all cities are the same, despite their shared virtue of resting firmly on solid ground. Relief is replaced by a grasping sense of uncertainty, however cultured or well-traveled one may be. In European cities, various every-day phenomena come as a shock to middle-class American sensibilities: there is little air conditioning, cash is used more commonly than card, ruins and graffiti are everywhere, many people smoke cigarettes, water must be purchased in bottles, and dogs are not always kept on leashes. Americans struggle to feel at home in European cities; even as we are put off by their apparent shortcomings, we find ourselves unable to discern whether these shortcomings are indications of poverty or sustainability, backwardness or refinement. Is sparkling water silly, or is it better? This uncertainty lends itself to a measure of self-doubt which at times borders on resentment. Attempting to explain your liberal arts degree to a German, for example, is like trying to advertise guided tours of Versailles to a Marxist. Are we permitted to sneer at the fact that European children must choose their career paths before finishing puberty, or should we instead laugh at ourselves for cleaving to such fanciful scholastic ideals, for embracing our cult of ambitious individualism? I should mention here that “fanciful” is, without a doubt, a word that describes me well. This is something I have been unable to ignore since setting foot in the decidedly un-fanciful city of Berlin. An admission: I listened to David Bowie’s “Heroes” – a song conceived in the artist’s pairing of Cold War Berlin and countless cocaine binges – on repeat for what seemed like the entirety of my flight here. How’s that for a level-headed beginning? By way of explanation, let it suffice to say that as a person of restless energy and a prodigiously short attention span, I am required to motivate myself to stay alive during long flights in the way I imagine other people have to motivate themselves to continue moving their legs during ultra-marathons. Eye on the prize, eye on the prize, and for God’s sake turn up the music: I allowed David Bowie to convince me that youthful romance, boundless creative energy, and very little else, awaited me in Berlin. When the captain announced our landing, I started “Heroes” over from the beginning, so that our plane would touch the pavement right at the song’s lyrical climax, when Bowie begins to scream: “I…I WILL BE KING. AND YOU…YOU WILL BE QUEEN. AND NOTHING…WILL DRIVE THEM AWAY. WE CAN BE HEROES…JUST FOR ONE DAY…” This obsessive listening ritual, along with my general disposition, prevented me from cultivating for myself any semblance of that bitch-slap realist attitude for which Berlin is so well-known (before I got here, at least). My own imagined kinship with this city came into being long before I flew in, taking its substance from the countless stories I grew up hearing about Berlin: dark tales from my German grandmother about her time as a refugee child in the devastated post-War capital. This long-standing connection with my Oma’s Berlin – a city which in truth no longer exists – did nothing useful for my arrival here, except to prevent me from reading any guidebooks about this place before I explored it for myself. All’s the better for that, I say; in my experience, bumpy beginnings make for a smoother ride in the end. And bumpy indeed have my Berlin beginnings been. I’d imagined myself walzing through the airport, leaping into a Trabant-turned-taxi, and jetting into the neon sunset, filled with currywurst and “Ostalgie.” Instead, I stood sheepishly on the sidewalk outside the arrivals gate, waving my hands with the other confused tourists while hordes of aggressive Germans attracted cabs like magnets, leaving us repeatedly in their dust. After several minutes of this indignity, I drew myself up and made sustained eye contact with a driver through the glass of her windshield, beckoning with my free hand while striding confidently forward, luggage in tow, hoping against hope that she would believe I deserved a ride in her taxi. She pulled up to the sidewalk and gave me an “okay” nod – my first triumph in Berlin. Little did I suspect that my newfound success was in peril. As the driver got out to stow my luggage in the trunk, a short blond woman descended upon us in a mysterious wrath, seething with indignance. It was as if we’d been caught stealing her car. The woman attempted to wedge herself between my body and the cab’s door; evidently, she had not yet secured a ride for herself. “Ich bin schwanger!” she screamed, her eyes widening with each heaving breath. “Ich bin schwanger!” At this point my German was practically nonexistent – her words evoked no meaning, sounding to me as fearsome and alien as the shrieks of Rome’s barbarian raiders of old, or perhaps the climax of a German-language World War II film. The driver rebuked our assailant in rapid, Turkish-tinted Deutsch, pushing me into the car and slamming the door behind me. I twisted around to glare through the window as we sped off, but the woman had already turned away. She bustled down the sidewalk with spartan haste, presumably having no time to waste before her next attack. The driver turned to shoot me a look as we slowed to a halt in the post-airport traffic, giggling as if we had shared a particularly juicy inside joke. “Taxi-Krieg!” she muttered under her breath. “These Germans, I tell you!” We began to move forward again, passing by the low buildings of glass and concrete that squat on the outskirts of the city. Curious, I opened Google Translate on my phone and typed in what I could remember from the words of my conquered enemy: “Ich… bin… schwanger.” A moment passed, her shrill voice ringing in my head, and then the translation: “I am pregnant.” The driver caught my eye in the mirror and gave a roguish wink – and off to Berlin we went.

Tears for Orlando

This evening, when I was in the shower, I started to cry. The water was running down my body and into the drain, warm as summer rain or tears, when all at once I doubled over and real tears began to fall. I couldn’t catch my breath and so the crying gripped me like a vice; my chest was wracked with sobs, over and over again. It’s a strange thing to remember what grief feels like, all of a sudden like that. I cried so long and hard that the tub began to fill, and I couldn’t tell if the faucet or my grief was to blame. I suspect it was the latter, that my own tears lapped at my ankles and then my shins, protesting with tiny waves when I lay down in them to float. The water was comforting and scalding all at once, like a father’s embrace. Within minutes it had overflowed the tub. More time passed and it covered the bathroom floor, and soon enough my apartment was flooded. The water rose. It gripped me in its current and towed me into the hallway beside my room, carrying me upwards, up towards the ceiling. Eventually I found myself drifting several feet above my bed. I was crying for Orlando, but in that moment I wasn’t thinking of the victims. In fact, I was thinking of Omar Mateen. Of how terrible it must have been to be him, maybe not always but certainly in the frenzied moment of his death and for years before that. Of how terrible it must have been to know that he had destroyed forty-nine of the most precious things in the world, and in so doing ensured that they would live on. To know that time would pass and he himself would be remembered in the same way we remember bad dreams – reluctantly, with a shudder and a turn of the cheek. How terrible, I thought, to know that that he had died long before he purchased that gun. As I lay in the water that crept up my bedroom walls, rising and falling with each tired breath, I remembered what it feels like to hate yourself, to be rent by a truth you will not face, to seek refuge in venomous lies told by people who confuse salvation with control. Your soul darkens day by day, and I am fairly sure that either it gets better or you freeze to death. Is that what happened to Omar Mateen? When I first loved a man, I became worthless in my own eyes. Everything, I thought – countless hopes and wishes, all that I’d been told – everything was ruined. What did I have to take hold of? At times I felt there was nothing. But I had friends who showed me I was mistaken, who took my hand in their own. I had a mother who held me with such care that I sometimes felt as if I were her own beating heart. I had a father who gave hugs, and said I love you, and sang songs. And I wondered, floating there above my bed, if Omar Mateen had anyone like this, if possibly he had never felt loved, really loved, in all his decidedly brief life. And I felt so sorry that I cried, although I admit that even now I feel little relieved. An ocean of tears, I’m afraid, was not enough.

A Poem for My Friend

If anyone could lead me to the heart of this world it would be you

you who sought your forbears’ footprints in a desert

full of tents like sunken sails beneath

an ocean of  stars and

crescent moons.


You packed up our wishes delicate as folded paper and took them

far away to hide them in the wishing place that wall

of stone and sand where travelers’ voices

crash like wandering peals

of thunder.


That wall of clay and soot where the heavy years of our race expend

themselves as prodigal waves carrying hopes and small

uncountable deaths like so much ghostly spume

to the gates of a god whose breath can

still be heard in the echoes of

our distant beginning.


You sought the heart of the world inside you, you felt its rhythm

deep within the cavernous spaces beneath your own heart

where the Fates in their veils spin strands of

silken dusk to mend the quaking

membrane that guards

this world from

the next.


Fey spinsters of chance they work themselves to the bone knitting

destinies and fever dreams in your soft holy places

weaving spells in the chambers

of your soul.


They hum and howl like the winds of the storm that nursed within

its clouds the first spark of life sewing verdant flames

to consume this unfeeling rock and from

its ashes spawn our infinity

of trembling brief