I knew her
When the world made sense
And people listened more to their hearts
Than the spewing of ill-conceived words that never come close to what we mean to say
But back then
In the silence of that half-dark room
I loved you
More fully than I had loved anything
You were sweet
Open to all possibilities
And in my mind’s dream I leaned closer
And our lips kissed
And for a moment we were one breath
If I hadn’t been rendered a coward
From too many failed campaigns
On foreign battlefields
I would’ve taken you there and then
And perhaps the overpowering
Tenderness I felt
Would’ve erupted into a savage brutal act that would’ve reduced
You to pleading for mercy
As your whimpering became sobs
Confirming the declaration that man has
Once again killed the very thing
That gave him life
In my haste to act gallant
I lost you
And bearing the mark of Cain
I left your house that night
Cursing the moon
And the unmanly man
Whom you laid beside each night
Whilst thinking of someone else
Perhaps he did too
I walked many blocks
At a pace that identified me
As a madman
And yet I couldn’t escape myself
Dissolving into a dark doorway
Where I unzipped and had you
Just the way I imagined you
These are the rituals of
Broken men who feel too much
Who have paid so highly
There is nothing left
But shameful acts
That reduce you to something they can understand in their
Years went by
As they do
And we met again
On a street corner at night
We smiled that smile
Pretending we hadn’t changed
But it only fooled ourselves
Your tenderness replaced by a reserved sadness caused by disappointment in human beings
My longing now disguised as a wisdom that brings no one any good
We walked through Chinatown
Talking not touching
Two fugitives from ourselves
Finding refuge in a familiar place
To eat, drink and seek common ground
In the truthful silence of things too intimate to voice
The small talk gave way to the bigger stuff wine can produce
And you told me you had been taken
By a master in Germany
And that he had made you do unspeakable things that shocked you whilst liberating your wildness
That raged like a stormy sea until you screamed your release and found yourself naked, spent and calm
Your true self had been on display
For all to see
And it excited you
Until you found the power
Of the hunter
And cried out for the kill
Jolting you back to reality
Although you now uttered some regret for the forced exposure
I could tell you needed to be unleashed again
Publicly paraded as the whore of Babylon through crowded rooms c
To become god-like
Laughing with abandonment
Taunting your captors
To use you in a way that takes you by surprise
The slave as exulted queen
Demanding full attention from everyone
Mouths and hands
As you laugh hysterically
In the face of who you could’ve been
Missing among the timid procession of the already dead
As you damn the wasted years
Where you once lived by rote
And other peoples’ standards of polite society
And now you tease me
Whilst probably teasing yourself
And tell me you are ready for your lesson
And need to be stripped
So you can feel the sweet bliss
Of unbridled imagination
And be set free again
Taken again and again
Until you lay calm
High on the satisfaction
That I have now seen everything you have
And am one with you
Cradled in my arms
Your protector now
Desire subsided in you
And with dawn it becomes clear
That God is a woman
And conceived and gave birth
To all living things
Including the darkness of that bottomless well
In which all possibilities
And there is no such thing as shame
Only the acceptance
Of who we are bold enough to become
I hold you
I expose you
I taste you
I take you
To somewhere where there are
That we have found ourselves
At last In this darkness where I have made my home to maximise my advantage
I only feel with my hands now
My heart is closed to ignorant insults and taunts
And I see things so much clearer
Now I am blind
TAKE THIS MAN
WHO ONCE STOOD PROUD
HIS EYES HAVE SEEN
ALL HIS KINGDOMS FALL
WHILE THE BLACKBIRDS PECK
AT HIS HOPES AND FEARS
HE CASTS HIS MIND BACK
TO WHEN LOVE WAS HERE
SEE THAT WOMAN?
SHE ONCE CARED FOR
BACK LONG AGO
WHEN SHE HAD A PLAN
BUT PLANS LIKE DREAMS
DOES SHE STILL REMEMBER
WHEN LOVE WAS HERE?
NOW WE TURN OUR COLLARS
TO THE WINTER CHILL
NOTHING IN OUR HANDS
EXCEPT MORE TIME TO KILL
I RETURN AGAIN
TO OUR FAVOURITE PIER
AND TO ANOTHER TIME
WHEN LOVE WAS HERE
WATCH THE MOON
IT CAN BETRAY YOUR TRUST
BEFRIEND THE STARS
ONLY IF YOU MUST
THEY WILL STEAL YOUR HEART
IN THE FALL OF A TEAR
YOUR ONLY MEMENTO
OF WHEN LOVE WAS HERE
(c) Frank Howson 2018
She had this theory that couples who called each other cute nicknames had lasting relationships. Unfortunately, like most theories, it was as effective as a feather-duster at the Alamo. Still, the memory of that naïveté still brings a tear to my eyes. It was a sweet, divine, beautiful season of delusion that also had its days of overcast skies that foretold a gloomy downpour neither of us would have the strength and wisdom to withstand. We were not Romeo and Juliet but rather two clowns in a touring circus that had seen better days. Still, we performed each show like our life depended upon it. And, looking back, it did. For neither of us would ever be the same.
At our best, on those nights when the planets aligned and the stars indulged us, we stumbled into the zone where it was real and unbridled and passionate and our fears had failed to conquer the best in us.
But you made me laugh, you gave me joy, your smile filled me with life.
“I’ve never seen two people more in love,” said one spectator.
Like the pathetic thespians we were we ate up any good reviews and dismissed the ones that were not. Perhaps we loved too deeply and such a thing can make every wound seem like a fatal diagnosis.
“I could’ve…I should’ve…I would’ve..” These words will haunt me all my life. Words that had been so good to me in the past now conspired to arrange themselves in sentences that spewed from my mouth before my heart could edit them into the beauty and respect she deserved.
We had both been broken long before that night we met on the Titanic. Broken in different ways but concealing our hurt and damage, smiling with all the bravery of idiots who have lost everything but continue to gamble what they have left in the hope that their luck has changed. And that God is compassionate enough to smile upon them.
I was hailed as your hero and love of your life and then, when rendered vulnerable by your praise, you killed me. I slowly bled to death in your arms, the Madonna and child. The fatal wounds delivered to my body, my heart, my ego, my dreams would prove to be inoperative.
What monstrous demon whispered in your ear and filled your thoughts with a negative view of our future together? Whoever it was, they lied to you and have been proven wrong. Although that fact rewards me with little pleasure this far from paradise and too many years lost. So much of us lost too, and yet, we go on. Pantomiming the actions and feelings expected of normal people. But old soldiers don’t smile, they weep when they sense no one is watching.
And now, in the winter of my vulnerability, age, recognising its cue, attacks on all fronts and I fall again and again carrying my cross to the Hill of Skulls.
I am still awaiting the right dawn for my resurrection. But you will not recognise me in that early morning mist, for I look younger in my defeat, having laid down the heavy responsibilities and weight of love.
Love came at such a cruel cost. But I would gladly pay it again for one day of being whole and loved and wanted once more.
But I only attract those who fear life and take the joy out of every situation. They ignore your financial loss but bemoan every penny they have spent on themselves. In many ways they are already dead. Like me. And so we make our home in this darkness. A cold, lonely place that has iced the veins to happiness.
I was awakened to the end
From our waiting sleep.
He was going and it wasn’t long.
Sitting in his chair,
He bid us all farewell.
We were too scared to cry,
Too lonely to try,
Though we sat at his side.
Death left its calling cards years before,
But in morning’s safety had waited.
Gasping for breath that wasn’t there,
Holding our hands that were.
He never cried a lonely tear
Or closed eyes that knew only hope,
To those past long nights
When nightmares were life.
They came for him, ready as he was.
We brushed his hair and washed his face.
He knew, and we knew,
Though nothing did we say
Lest we frighten the other.
Yet I screamed so loud in my silence
And cried so long in my pain.
So many things left unsaid,
But, oh, think of the times we spent,
And don’t bring flowers for the dead
Unless he saw them in life.
Just think of his humour as dry as the sand,
And his smile as big as his heart,
And those eyes as blue as the sky
And twice as wise.
Even now we miss him,
Every day I’ll wish he were here.
He loved us more than he loved himself.
We loved him back as much.
Something’s gone now forever,
Part of us is gone with him,
And in the still of things a night voice screams — “God, I’m as lonely as hell.”
I applied for a government grant
But was knocked back on a technicality
They thought I had talent
Some asshole suggested I get a second opinion
I came wanting
Pushed into this world
A dark room
With much huffng and puffing
Blood and tears
Born into a religion
That gave me the assurance of heaven
If I followed the rules
(Made by man
To ingratiate himself to God)
I read much about this God
And learned that in his youth
He was like us
Quick tempered, revengeful, slow to forgive
But, also like us, he mellowed
In later years
And ordained a common man
As his adopted son
To bring us the good news
That God had changed
He was now non-judgmental
Forgiving, compassionate, and
Like your favourite grandfather at a Barbecue
A joy to be around
But when his chosen son
Was railroaded by a fixed jury
Of the envious and the threatened
And was killed in the most agonising and cruel death ever invented by man
God withdrew from the world
He had over estimated us
And like all those that do
We deeply disappointed him
Some say he died
Some say he’d never existed to begin with
Some say he was just sad
And a sad God cannot rule
In his absence we were left lost
And scared as to how to go on
This manifested itself
In self destruction
And we have since sought many unique ways to achieve this
For those with money
It was drugs
For those without money
It was drugs
The cowards way out
Because the burden of living
And doing the right thing by each other
Was too great a responsibility
So, like God,
We, in our own way,
Have become sad
And withdrawn from the world
Most of us can’t be bothered voting
And then complain about the leaders we are saddled with
Who, in their naive stupidity
Attempt to lead us out of the darkness, and try to sell us some strong medicine to heal our wounds
And, if they don’t succumb to compromise and side deals
The shadow people shoot them
Or they’re found hanging from doorknobs
Their deaths a question mark forevermore
In the file marked
“Believe It Or Not”
The weight of carrying the cross of responsibility
Is indeed great and we are not programmed to stand it long
Falling time and time again
On our lonely agonising walk to our own Calvary
And in those dizzy blindingly excruciating final hours we find ourselves confused and insecure and doubtful
Because we were promised
An assurance of Heaven, you see?
A free ticket
An escape route
A place where we’d be welcomed and loved and held
God shouldn’t be hated or blamed for spreading this dream
He meant well
He just forgot that we are human
And always looking for the easiest option
We have no loyalty
Other than to the junk man
And that’s because the junk man has something we want
But unlike heaven
We can see it, feel it, at a cost
It may not be paradise
But in those despairing moments
We have lowered our expectations of miracles
It numbs us and that’s enough
To get through another lonely night
But why burden ourselves
Worrying about it
When it brings momentary relief
Like a happy finish
It ain’t love
But it’ll do
Tomorrow we can wake to the aftermath nightmare
Let us just drift
Into our dreamtime
Our glimpse of grace
The small change
That we don’t deserve
But were born into
Like thieves in the temple
Women are not madonnas
And men are not messiahs
We have more in common with a sewer rat
And just as much cunning
They say rats will survive the end of the world
Perhaps we will too
Having brought about the ultimate destruction
It would be just if we were made to live in it
My own condition is of great concern to no one
Well, maybe someone in Rumania
Frets about me
But if so, I am unaware
And in this state of ignorance
In some year of our Lord
I begin this…
All I know of today
Is that dawn came on time
And that I have ruined dinner
And every chance I had to be free
I mistook sex for love
A handshake as a promise
An enemy as a friend
And money as happiness
Someone more mature
Should’ve had my life
They’d have known what to do with it
But they’d have never known the exquisite bitter sweet taste of loss
Of having no further to fall
Which in fact gives you some real security
I have been betrayed by many friends along the way
But at least I drew evil into the light so that I now recognise its face
If there’s no afterllife then why have we been made to learn all this wisdom that can never be put to use in this world that is built on false values?
But maybe God’s sadness has turned to boredom
And this is some kind of ironic game for his enjoyment
Come to think of it, if there is an afterlife why the fuck would God want us there?
Perhaps we have inherited our self destructiveness from him!
Freud stumbled upon this theory whilst smoking himself to Death on a cocaine binge.
Maybe you have to be stoned in order to see through the surface bullshit and glimpse the truth?
We on earth are angry.
We have awakened to find all our heroes dead. We didn’t win the lottery. Every war fought was just a lie. And the Vatican is run by Satanists.
But apart from that everything’s just fine after a few pills.
The most damaging drug I was addicted to was women. They quite clearly got me up and then nowhere. I’ve come to realise that two people can’t live one life. Unless there’s huge compromise and compromise breeds resentment. Both have to forfeit dreams in order to keep the relationship going. This leads to you both acting roles in each other’s company making out that this dire situation of strangulation is actually bringing each other bliss. After awhile you start telling bigger and bigger lies until you get caught out and it’s over.
As a child I loved the circus. In many ways it tells you everything you need to know about Life.
Cigarettes were my friend right up until the time they weren’t.
You were my friend too. Right up until the time you weren’t.
I die so hard each time I think of you. But never learn the easy route, always doomed to take the long way home. Alone.
Born into a world hellbent on bringing about its own destruction, what hope did we have?
I drive around
The desert is beautiful
The stars are so clear
The air is so thin
One can almost forget oneself
And sometimes on the wind I hear you calling my name. But from your lips it now sounds like a curse word. And in the mist of early winter I sometimes see your vision of who I imagined you were.
And our dissolving future.
So, it’s once around the clock we go. Our history of joy squeezed into a crowded hour, before the sun set for good.
If there is a heaven, will you be there? If so, I may have to make other plans.
I was right
About all the little things that didn’t matter.
I was wrong about all the big things that did.
But youth is for foolishness and mistakes.
The concept being that you will eventually learn from mistakes and your heart will grow a harder layer of protection. This can be a lifelong education of regrowth if you don’t pay enough attention to details.
One theory is that we keep falling in love with the same person, over and over, like some weird drunkard’s dance in a Groundhog Day scenario. Even if that person was all wrong for us in the first place. So is it familiarity that attracts? The devil we know is better than the saviour we don’t? Perhaps we just tire from the waiting and settle for what we know. Attracted to those who remind us of ourselves? Or marry for money and security even though that brings in its train a lifetime of boredom and unrequited dreams and hopes? But surely that is not a living, but a dying? For money proves to be a cold companion and takes more than it gives. Doomed to buy all the toys and trinkets to impress others whilst your subsequent depression stemming from your inner knowledge that nothing purchased brings any lasting pleasure. You are a compromised person and although you can lie to your conscience your sub-conscious knows the truth, and forces you to spend most of your days sleeping. Hiding from life. Avoiding waking to the horror of who you really are. A prisoner trapped in a cell of your own making. Spending all your approved allowance on the best drugs to dull yourself to the harsh reality that you are already dead.
I took myself to Disneyland today.
I wanted to return to a simpler, safer time when I believed in dreams and heroes.
All around me was the sound of the laughter of children and the look of wonderment in their eyes.
They are years from cynicism and reducing the world to something they can understand.
I had a photo taken with Mickey but my idol Donald Duck was nowhere to be seen.
Disneyland was conceived and built by a sad and lonely man who acted childish at times. Because the truth is he was still a child and needed to build a romanticised version of his childhood town – a place where it was always clean, and wholesome and safe. And contained no tyrannical father. Ironic huh? Was he insane? In most people’s terms, yes. But at least his dreams were safer than those of young Adolf Hitler, a failed painter from Austria. Y’know, if young Adolf had’ve sold three or four landscape paintings the whole Second World War may have been avoided. I always say, “Be careful about pissing off creative people. That creative light force once turned back on itself can become very dark and destructive.”
On the other hand, all of the world’s great accepted visionaries were a little looney tunes. Some, very much so. Fortunately their insanities were focused towards something more publicly palatable than the Third Reich or the NWO. They risked everything thinking outside the box. Their own lives became secondary to their dream. And many died in their footsteps upon that lonely highway. They sacrificed romantic relationships, friendships, their dignity (as many were publicly ridiculed), their personal happiness, and a comfortable safe life. Why? And what for? A higher calling? Immortality? If there is no God and no afterlife why do people do this to themselves? If we’re just here marking time until the long darkness, why not just put the tools down and embrace the fairly interesting train ride to nowhere?
It’s the same with love. If it’s not a God-given gift to share then what exactly is it? Why care so much about it? Or anyone else?
I pondered all these things as I sat in my chair looking out the window that was shaped like Mickey’s head on the Disneyland Express on my train ride back to somewhere.
Why would anyone become a writer? Especially in a world that doesn’t seem to read anymore. Or go to the theatre, or go to the movies to see anything other than comic book heroes. Good question.
All the great writers were mostly drunks. Coincidence? Or is there a cost for looking too long into the abyss and reporting back to the good folk what they’re too timid to experience for themselves? Springsteen once wrote that there is a darkness at the edge of town. No, that darkness lies within us all. Each one of us has the latent potential to be a Hitler or a Christ. God has cleverly given us free will to choose our own poison. And the highly sensitive among us reach for the bottle, or the harder stuff, in order to numb ourselves to the responsibilities of that choice.
When I was at school I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was hopeless. Sometimes I feel sorry for those who attempted to teach me anything. Not sure if my undisciplined mind was a result of the trauma I witnessed most nights in my abusive family home, or I had what is now diagnosed as ADD. One day the headmaster of the school phoned my mother for a meeting to question her as to why her son had the highest I.Q at the school and the lowest grades. She was at a loss for words. But not me. Words always came easy to me. In fact I could talk myself out of any beating I was about to receive from a Christian Brother. That was quite a feat considering the relish they got from handing out such brutal punishment. These guys would’ve been more at home as members of the Third Reich than Jesus’ band of 12. But talk my way out I did. So, words became my friend, my salvation. And humour protected me from the cruel slings of other peer group bullies. I could always hysterically put myself down before anyone else had the chance to. Timing was everything. Playing the court jester got me through my troubled youth and shielded me from revealing my true self. And what was that? I was scared of everything and everyone. I felt like an alien most of the time in a strange world that only threw contradictions at you.
My refuge again and again were words. The only subjects at school that I attained any respectable grades for were Art, English and Religious Knowledge. The latter because I loved hearing all the Biblical stories and for some reason remembered every detail. They were filled with such amazing imagery and drama. Oh, and miracles. I guess I was depending on a miracle to happen in my life that would save me. And this Jesus character sounded like he might’ve been the only person who would’ve taken the time to understand me. Whether he was the Messiah or not is up for debate, but he sure sounded like a nice man. And like me, and all the other loners and misfits in the world, grossly misunderstood. I never forgot those stories and if nothing else they were great morality word plays.
Due to my restless mind I found it too difficult to persevere and read a book through to the end. But I tried again and again to achieve this. Thank God I did because I now must own over a thousand books that I cherish and have taught me more than I ever learnt at school. I always tell people I was self educated and that’s the truth of it. All my education took place in a class of one. In many ways, books saved my life.
My introduction to books began when I was a small child and my Irish grandmother would sit me on her lap and read aloud the adventures of Noddy in Toyland. We bonded through the whole Noddy series until she was taken from me when I was two.
The first book that hooked me enough to finish was, ironically, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I guess it proved that I had a fascination with the mystery of women from an early age. This of course led to much heartache and my premature death but that’s a whole other story. Either that, or Ms. Alcott was one helluva writer that captured my imagination and kept me turning the pages. By the end of the book I felt I knew all the characters and cared enough about them to shed some tears. The mark of a great writer.
After that I read Enid Blyton’s book series “The Famous Five” followed by “The Secret Seven.” Then I graduated to “Biggles,” and then many books about the Wild West that introduced me to such colourful characters as Davy Crockett. Kit Carson, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy The Kid etc., etc., etc. Yep, who needed to time travel or see the world when you had books?
Then in my late teen years I read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and my life really did change. A book about the ultimate loner always surrounded by a party of people. I savoured every word in that book – it’s prose was exquisite and the story heartbreaking. It foretold me that following the wrong dreams can get you killed. Reading Fitzgerald was like finding a new best friend. I understood him. And from what I read I knew he understood me. After that I read all six of his novels and every short story he ever wrote. I couldn’t get enough of his words and the insight he gave into the human heart. It really was like he’d read my letters or thoughts and knew me intimately. Of course being part Irish, like me, virtually every story ended in death or heartbreak. He painted such a romantic but dangerous world where his characters always paid a high price for caring too much.
Fitzgerald’s own life was cut short by too much booze and heartbreak topped off by rejection in Hollywood. But he remains my friend and I reread “Gatsby” every couple of years. It never fails to move me. Hollywood has never been able to pull off a wholly successful film treatment of it for the simple reason that most of the truly beautiful stuff in the book are the thoughts in the characters heads, and that’s impossible to shoot. Films are about action. Fitzgerald’s writing is about emotions. Unless you do endless voice-overs and that usually renders your movie as exciting as porridge. That’s why the great Fitzgerald had such a hard time of it in Hollywood trying to make it as a screenwriter in order to net enough money to keep his wife Zelda in a mental home and pay for his daughter’s schooling. He died a broken, despairing, weary man old before his time.
Like Gatsby, killed by the wrong dream.
I came to Charles Dickens late. Not sure why that was but come to him I did. The first book of his I chose to read was “Great Expectations” and was astounded. To me it remains one of the greatest novels of all time. And in my opinion he is right up there with Shakespeare.
I heard that Dickens original ending to “Great Expectations” was tragic and certainly all roads in the book are leading there. But his publisher leaned on him to come up with a more upbeat ending. Dickens listened, went away and rewrote it, and what he does is simply sublime. He gives it a happy ending that is so bitter sweet he moves us to tears as our damaged leading characters come together to try and seek a way forward, and into the sunlight. It is so beautiful my hands trembled as I read the final pages. This novel alone would’ve assured his place among the giants of literature, but he did it again and again, novel after novel – “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Hard Times,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities” (another ending that is so exquisitely executed as our flawed hero rises to the most noble of acts, laying down his wasted life so that others may live and find the joy that had always eluded him. Death giving his meaningless life a meaning. If there’s a better speech than his final words, I would surely love to know about it.
After Dickens I discovered Hemingway, Steinbeck, Schulberg, Shakespeare, O’Hara, Maugham, Hammett, Greene, Wilde, Twain, Isherwood, Chandler, Huxley, Ephron and many others.
All complex people, flawed, contradictory, confused, and yet so much wiser in their work than in life. Perhaps the writing down of stories and emotions helped them understand themselves.
It’s interesting how great writing never dates. You may think that picking up something that was written a hundred years ago or, in some cases longer, couldn’t possibly be relevant to your life. But the surprising revelation is that the emotions felt are timeless. Just different scenery and choice of words. But at the heart of every great story is just another human being trying to solve the same problems, whilst dealing with the same heartaches, pressures and obstacles. The universal human emotion. If you write the truth in its naked honesty it will always connect – now, tomorrow, a thousand years from now.
It teaches us that we are not alone. We are all in this together, wandering around a desert seeking an answer to why we are here. And awaiting that opportunity to rise to the potential of who we could be.
John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”