I don’t want to smoke

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I don’t want to smoke
and I sneak away
to coffee shops
and think about smoking
I drink coffee
read
Listen to people talk
people laugh
and I read the same line
and I read the same line
and I read the same line
I close the book
and don’t stare
don’t stare
don’t stare
I finish my coffee
grab my book
head back home
and I read
I think about smoking
and I read the same line
and I read the same line
and I read the same line
I stand up
pace outside
get in my car
and go to a coffee shop

Now I have the time

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Now I have the time
to pay attention to the names
of musicians
both living and dead
      Michael Nyman
      Philip Glass
      Alexander Borodin
      Katie Von Schleicher

and I take pride because
I feel what they create
and now I know their names

Now I have the time
to pay attention to my
backyard
the gophers have gone
I killed all the weeds
the wild parrots, escaped
from the pet store
50 years ago, gather
on the power line above
my easement
the Blue Jay’s cocking heads
and hopping
around the gopher holes
finding grubs
And I take pride because
they are part of my lot
and now I know their names

And now I have the time
to pay attention to the names
the names not belonging to me
or to the other one
I have the time to pay attention
because I have only time

I know a great writer

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I know a great writer
but you don’t
her greatness is planted
in not knowing, not
thinking she is great
and I know she is
a great writer
but she doesn’t and
she writes anyway
and I write but
I try not to think of
my standing
my standing over
or standing under the
writing of other writers
and I stand up
and I think of the words
and the words I don’t know
but that great writer writes
knowing nothing of her greatness
and I write but
I stand and go outside
taking off my shirt to let the sun
soak in
and I think of her greatness
and not my own
and she doesn’t
think of me

Please

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Please
Don’t take the pills
Changing chemistries
Raising new ills

Those dark shadows
Swirling

Let them feed
Through words
To paper eaters
Devouring

Let them loose
Through color
To open windowed souls
Cowering

Let them twirl
Not suppress
Give them life
Beyond the chest

Let them powder
Through noise
To wax drums
Quivering

Let them dance
Through monologues
To cymbal-ed monkeys
Chattering

Please
Don’t take the remedies
Blessing new enemies
Depressing heart break

Those dark shadows
Swirling

And I want to be the king of my castle

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

And I want to be the king of my castle
And I feel like a pauper in my home
And I need to be master of my domain
And I believe no man should be alone

And I want to flit about on empty floors
And I feel the scream of doubt that clogs my pores
And I need cold water to wake me up
And I believe no answers are found in a cup

And I want my friends to know I am here
And I feel my family hold on to a tear
And I need a fresh face without a mask
And I believe no answers to questions they ask

And I want to find words that aren’t in a book
And I feel too much pain will allow me to look
and I need a new name to reflect all these changes
And I believe no pen is worthy of these exchanges

It was the times

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was the times
I teased too hard
And
It was the time
After sex
I asked a stupid question
And
It was the time
Before intimacy
I asked a stupid question
And
it was the time
I drove to you
Drunk
And
It was the time
I came over
from the night before
Still stinking of booze
And
It was the times
I went out
“to catch a slice of life”
I said
And
It was the time
At the urgent care parking lot
I shared a cig
With another waiting for his girl
And
It was the times
I couldn’t express
But I wanted to be alone
And
I walked past you
To take out the trash
As if another wall
And
And there is more
And
I write them out
So plainly
Too quickly
And
I feel them
Like paper
cuts

Youthful Beauty

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Youthful Beaty
nods and smiles
at graying experience
the coolness of
sweaters
Jackets
shirts
Sagging in all the right places
Betrays
The pursuit of success
Cleavage shines and rings
skirts high tail
chandelier leggings
locked eyes
loose legs

Meanwhile

Armies of
Scabbed hands
bruised arms
oxygen tanks
vet hats
social security cheques
keep the boat
Floating

The pianist’s fingers bleed
for the raised voice
recognition
of barfly’s and
passersby

Five claps for the piano man
and I write on torn
sheets of a legal pad
trying to understand what I’m doing

I tried to bet the ponies

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I tried to bet the ponies
Like Bukowski
But my math is atrocious

I tried drinking
Like Hemingway
But the loneliness was unbearable

I tried writing
Like Joyce, Miller and Burroughs
But my mind is too chaotic

I tried meditating
Like Cheever
But there’s too much fight in my chest

I tried uppers and downers
Like Thompson
But clarity was elusive

I tried
I’ll try

Forced words

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Forced words
The thing won’t come
The thing won’t happen
Worse
I don’t know what thing is

Forced words
At a casino
Between sweepers
Smokers
Losers
chirps
Winners
Chimes
Losers

Forced words
Because
That fight
in my chest
crawls down
to my hands

it’s shit
the feeling
it’s shit
the forced words

A train not even crashing
No explosion
Just quietly retiring
Off the tracks

If you’re lucky enough

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

If you’re lucky enough
You’ll fly to the moon
Through blue flame eyes
Glowing cross the table
And you’ll hear
Louis Armstrong’s growling timbre
I’m in heaven, I’m in heaven.

And if you pay attention
Sinatra will croon
between your ears
I thought of quitting, baby
but my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
and you’ll float over the moon
aiming for those sapphire eyes
twinkling across the table

And if you’re lucky enough
time will stop
and you’ll realize there is only
what is in front of you
and like melting butter
Irma Thomas will drip
in your ears
Anyone who knows what love is
will understand

And if you let yourself go
you’ll bloom in a shimmering galaxy
of golden hair
and Minnie Riperton’s soft melody
will patter in your ear
Kiss my petals
and weave me through a dream

And if you’re lucky enough
you’ll stand still
tethered by a kiss
in a Stater Brother’s parking lot
while the world spins
your body will buzz and hum
and you’ll hold your own song

And if you hold on to it
you’ll write about it
filling pages
with a universe of words
you’ll run out of ink
you’ll run out of words
but those azure eyes
will forever be empyreal

And it’s in my chest

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

And it’s in my chest
And I think about Blanca
And I think about me
And I think about the dogs
And I never start from the beginning
And the monologue never stops
And I’m trying to fall asleep
And I fall into another line
And I stay awake
And I want to be a better man
And I don’t know what that means
And I keep pushing keys
And my hands grab for tools
And my palms tingle
And every line starts to continue
And I hate it
And I love to hate it
And it’s cliché
And I recognize it is cliché
And I keep pressing down
And I think of a pianist
And I want to make music
And I hate the things my fingers leave
And I make noise
And I clang
And I bang
And I push
And every line starts the same
And I try to scrape the fever
On keys
On paper
On pens
On receipts
On napkins
On envelopes
And it leaves a residue
And I read it
And you read it
And it stains

The sky is mottled with pregnant clouds

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The sky is mottled with pregnant clouds
Contractions of wind huff harder and harder
Trees protest throwing down leaves
And still I stay outside

A cricket plays a solo
A neighbor laughs
My hair blows over my eyes
And still I stay outside

The cup of tea has lost its steam
My skin tightens into untouched dunes
My fingers tighten while they tap
And still I stay outside

Bukowski’s liquor breath escapes his jowls
Love is a Dog from Hell flutters and howls
My little dog scurries from door to lap
And still I stay outside

Tomorrow I leave on a road trip

A short poem.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Tomorrow I leave on a road trip
With my dad

We’ve been to
North Carolina
New York
Just the two of us

In NC
We saw all the green
From a Mustang convertible
Watched Eddie Murphy on screen
Took a dip in a mountain stream
Dad worked in the next room
I saw porn for the first time
I was still a single digit

In NY
We saw mountains of glass and steel
From taxi cabs and walks
Viewed works of art
Ate well
Dad went to a conference
I crossed the Brooklyn bridge
and smoked
I was in my early 20’s

I’m 35
We know each other’s vices
We’re driving to the deserts of the Midwest
We’ll see strip malls
gas stations
fast food
On our way to beauty

I’ll grab my watch
And
Hold its hands

Float, Volcano, Marathon

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Astronauts spin holding an orphan rope
All known life bouncing from their visors
Green and blue and white and brown

My fingers burn and quake at glowing letters
An eruption of black spews over white
Invisible specks from that deep black pool

Finger through tar race chariots of fire
One view, two views, three views, four
One like, two likes, then no more

The window checking fever of a lost love
Howling wolves, laughing hyenas, danger
Bricks are laid one by one by one by one

Not fame, not money, not glory, nor expertise
Anxious desire to transcribe thought
To write. Not to be read, but understood

Die, Mug, Silence

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The waitress eyed his mug like a Black Friday shopper eyeing the father who just grabbed the last Tickle-Me-Elmo. His knuckles white from keeping a tight grip through the handle around the sphere of the terracotta cup. His eyes glancing at the waitress and back at the coffee, half full and still steaming in his hand. The waitresses grip on the coffee pot equally as tight, a white band appearing where her choke hold on the handle, pressed against her wedding band and drained the blood around that finger.

He watched as she delivered a plate of egg whites to an older man two tables away. Then she walked over to his table.

“How is everything?” her question a distraction to her real intention. A rope-a-dope as her coffee pot hand darted forward across the table toward his mug.

“Everything is great, thank you.” He said, taking a sip from his coffee and bringing closer to his being, away from the hovering mother ship of coffee.

“Great, I’ll be back to check on you.” She wavered eyeing the mug, her hand beginning to shake from the extension of the nearly full pot in her hand. The moment passed and she retreated, moving on to the next table, where their mugs were exposed, and she filled to the brim each one with steaming coffee.

His mind was quiet. Eating alone, he’d become accustomed to the silence in his immediate vicinity. The conversations and cacophony of forks, knives and cups clattering spilled over into his space, but that was to be expected.

The waitress stopped at the coffee maker and began reloading her pot. She glanced back at his table; the mug still locked in his hand. She nearly spilled the coffee but there was more than enough in the chamber to cock back and fire more coffee into his cup, no matter how full it may have been.

She walked straight back to his table. “Refill?” The pot hovering inches from his mug-holding hand.

“No thank you,” he replied.

“Are you sure?” She insisted, pushing the pot closer to him until they nearly made a toast.

“Yes, I’m quite satisfied with the amount I have, one cup is enough.”

“Well, refills are free, sir, don’t be shy.” She was on the attack. He still stayed on the polite defense.

“That’s a great policy but I think I’ll have had my fill with just this one cup, thank you.”

“Okay, I’ll be back to make sure.” She fired back. This shot wiped out his front line and civility became the casualty.

“Ma’am, no need to come back. I only want one cup of coffee.” The smile on his face turned a few degrees to a thin line.

“Okay, we’ll I’ll be back in a few minutes to make sure. People change their minds.” She threatened to leave but her smile faded, and she stayed, her arm shaking from holding the full pot out in front of her.

“Do not come back. I have finished my meal and once I finish this very cup of coffee, this single cup of coffee, I will pay my bill and leave. Should you continue insisting, I will be forced to leave only a 10% gratuity.”

“Sir, are you not happy with our service?” Her brow furrowed and the line became a frown. His brow furrowed and the thin line became a frown.

“Your service is excellent, perhaps a bit too much. It could be said that there is too much service. And if there should be too much of something, it is still inadequate.”

“I will refill that mug.” She pushed the pot against his mug, threatening to tilt its spout into his mug.

“You will not.” He pulled the mug away.

“I will provide this service as per our policy.”

“Policy be damned, I would rather die than accept your refill.”

Sleep, Store, Offense

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Lemuel rested his eyes, just for a moment. The last few days had forced him to be alert, but the moment he let down his guard, he was out. His eyes fluttered rapidly behind his eyelids as his mind processed all its eyes had taken in.

Lemuel watched skeletons running around on a beach with black pebbles. Their bones clacking on the rock as they swiveled their heads around, which, their heads were cameras. Cameras with long lenses that whirred when they zoomed and had cables attached that ran all the way to somewhere Lemuel couldn’t see. The camera head skeletons crowded around Lemuel, pointing their lenses at his lemon stuffed mouth.

The setting and characters shifted. The clacking bones and whirring lenses morphed into the strange noises coming from all the people in the marketplace. All the strange noises from the other creatures in cages also stirred into the blurry soup being made in Lemuel’s mind. He stood in front of a long table, octopi crawling all over each other and up the pillars holding up the tent. A man came out making guttural noises from his mouth and maybe even nose before taking out a giant clever and hacking at the squirming maw of tentacles and beaks on the table. Heads, beaks and tentacles still suctioning flew everywhere.

One landed on Lemuel’s face and he tore it off with a hiss and pop. Lemuel stared horrified at the massacre of the sacred creatures he was taught to hold in reverence. The providers of the ink that allowed the lemonmouth to speak, to stand out amongst themselves and the rest of the world. The ink that allowed them to tell their stories, both ancient and new.

Lemuel began to cry, his tears hot and angry. He began to shake violently. His arms and legs stretching and growing wider all at once. Tiny suction cups dotted his growing arms and he grabbed at anyone with his new tentacles, anyone in the marketplace, but their quick pace and constant noise prevented them from noticing anything was going on. Every person Lemuel grabbed continued making their noises and looking around as if they had forgotten something.

Then Lemuel woke up. Someone was shaking him. He looked up into the eyes of a woman, she smiled but there was no lemon in her mouth and also not a single tooth. She spread her arms wide in the greeting he understood. On her bare chest, between a shirt, he could see the lines of the lemonmouth, from a different ship most likely, and quite old judging by its faded color.

The lines on her chest told a story of motherhood, of disgrace, of shame. There was also a new line, one Lemuel hadn’t initially noticed. It was a skeleton hand, it’s pointer finger and pinky sticking straight up while the thumb and other two fingers were pressed into the palm, almost like a head with horns. Lemuel didn’t recognize that symbol, but in looking up at her face and keeping the new lines in his mind, he noticed a strength.

She motioned for him to follow and he did, this being the only other lemonmouth, or closest thing to one, he had found in a few days.

Confusion, Mosque, Slow

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Nothing made sense at the edge of the blue. On land there didn’t seem to be any order, to anything. Nothing was categorized and everyone moved rapidly, never seeming to take a break. Those weren’t even the strangest things. There was nothing in their mouths and they all seemed to be constantly making noises through them.

Lemuel had heard crying or retching or coughing but never the cacophony of sounds he was hearing now. None of it made sense. His eyes darted everywhere for some daubing, some symbols on these strange people to learn something about them.

Opening his arms at everyone coming toward him didn’t seem to be effective, if anything, they walked faster and made an obvious turn to avoid him. There was so much stimulation, Lemuel couldn’t think. He looked for a place that might be quiet so he could gather his thoughts and process what he might do. It wasn’t even that long ago that he had suddenly regained consciousness on shore. He still hadn’t gotten over the shipwreck, seeing all the ropes, sails, wood, and various supplies scattered in the mouth of the bay. All those lemons, bobbing up and down, rolling back and forth with each wave stretching onto the edge of the blue.

Looking up, Lemuel spotted a tall building with round towers poking up above the other tall buildings. Moving toward it, he pushed through people carrying strange objects he’d never seen. Moving creatures in cages, baskets of bright red, round objects, shiny things twisted in dangerous shapes. He had to keep looking up at the towers because at his level, there was only seeing just past the next person.

Finally, he looked up and then down to see the entrance of the building he sought. A giant archway patterned with tiles on each side marked the mouth of what he hoped would be a quiet or at least a quieter place.

Walking slowly towards the entrance, Lemuel noticed shoes just outside the large wooden doors. He took off his sandals and peeked into the door that was slightly ajar. Two men emerged, not noticing him. They carried rolled up rugs and stopped to put on their shoes. Lemuel slipped past and stopped, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness.

As his eyes took in the little light available, they began bouncing off information for Lemuel to see. More giant arches marked a long, vacuous hallway but they were not plain. Every wall, pillar, arch and windowsill was covered with carvings. Images of birds, geometric shapes, slivered moons, suns and stars.

Lemuel looked at his own bare chest, seeing the tattoos that made up who he was. Perhaps they spoke his language. He moved forward through archways, looking up at gigantic hanging objects holding, what looked like, thousands of candles. Ahead of him, he saw more men. They faced down on rugs just fit for them and rocked back and forth from kneeling to touching their heads to the rug. They were also making strange noises from their mouths, but these were not the chaotic sounds from outside, these seemed to sooth him. Lemuel knelt down, mimicking what he saw and began to think. The storm, his grandfather losing his grip on the rigging and disappearing over the side of the ship, screaming, blackness, the beach. Lemuel had found a quiet place but his thoughts were booming.

Outlook, Violation, Thumb

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Lemuel sat at the bow of the ship staring at the thin line that his elders had told him was land. Born on the boat, he’d never been to land, but he was told it was like the deck of a ship that never rocked and often stretched as far as the eye could see. Lemuel was also told that there was no need to ever go there. The ship and the sea had everything they needed. Except for the lemons and a few other supplies.

To go and live on shore among all the evil that existed there was one of the main themes Lemuel was taught time and again. For the lemons and other necessities, special crew members called thumbs were designated and even then, they traveled ashore in groups of three; one with a blind fold, another with a gag in his mouth and the third with earplugs. Each specialized in a sense. The eyes (gag) surveyed and looked for the appropriate vendors. The ears (blindfold) listened to the side conversations of vendors to make sure they were not being taken advantage of. The mouth (earplugs) spoke for the fleet belonging to the Lemonmouths.

Lemuel looked down at his first tattoo, a small black lemon on his right wrist. Made from the ink of octopi and squid pulled up, boiled down and inked by the “daubers”. According to his grandfather, the Lemonmouth needed very little to communicate and in a picture a thousand conversations could be had. By looking at the other’s eyes and down to their tattoos, Lemuel had learned to communicate.

The lemon wedged in Lemuel’s mouth was still fresh, the rind had not yet broken down or been accidentally punctured by a tooth. He wiped away the steady stream of saliva with his water cloth, a strip of sail each Lemonmouth carried around for that purpose. His was brown and crusted by salt but that was normal.

In Lemuel’s world, the lemon was a sacred object. Geronimo Coolidge, their forefather, the lemon prevented scurvy, but it also kept out evil spirits, from entering the body or the world. A world, that for Lemuel, consisted of water and wood, yet he would stare at that thin line near the horizon and wonder what it was like, evil or not.

Insist, Nap, Meaning

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The cowboys silhouette dipped left and right with the trotting of the horse. Dust swirled around and the tumbleweeds hopped and rolled across the trail. The horse would slow its pace until spurs dug into its side. A quick gallop and then back to a trot but the cowboy demanded they keep moving.

The journey had started just before the sun started peaking at them from behind. Now the sun was slipping behind the mountains in front of them.

They came across a stream and the cowboy stopped, taking the bridle in his hand and leading the horse to water. As the horse drank, so the cowboy dipped his cowhide waterskin for his own drink. After filling it, he cupped a hand into the water and drank.

Spotting a tree across the stream, they walked through the water and tried to rest. The cowboy leaned up against the tree and covered his face with his hat. The horse bended its knees and collapsed immediately into a snore. They would continue on during the night but from transition of light to darkness they would sleep.

Only the sounds of the snoring horse, wind flapping through the leaves and the stream could be heard. The cowboy kicked off his boots and rubbed his feet, keeping the hat over his face. The horse kicked out but kept snoring.

Crickets, invisible to eye but not to the ear, began to drown out the other sounds. The cowboy fell asleep and dreamed.

Of swirling dust, giant tumbleweeds, snorting horses, distant gunshots, crying children and a woman’s embrace. Riding a 20-foot horse, the cowboy approached a city the likes of which he’d never seen. Buildings like mountains, lights in the shape of words and tropical fruits. A thousand bells ringing and glasses clinking. Carts with giant wheels pulled by invisible horses.

The cowboy now rode on a horse smaller than the carts that passed him. He looked up all around to see walls of glass and light. No signs of tumbleweeds, cacti or even dust. A man wearing a bright orange cowboy vest that reflected light carried a giant satchel over his neck and around his waist. The man walked up to the cowboy, looking down at him and tapped two notes together before handing him one.

The cowboy held it in his hand “two for one drink special at the spicy cabana. Girls drink free.”

The horse snorted in his sleep, waking the cowboy who removed his hat and looked out over the plain. No glow in the distance, no sun only the moon, stars and the crickets. Scratching his head, the cowboy pulled on his boots. He stood up and looked all around. With two quick clicks of his tongue, the horse sat up and the cowboy bent down to pet its mane.

Today

Today was a good day.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I blasted straight up through the clouds, punching that little grinning cherub on the 9th before rocketing past cloud 10, 11, 15, 37, 100.

I found another winning lotto ticket after losing the first in a drunken blur. Then, sober and aware, I found the first ticket, crumpled in a pocket.

I can see straight and think in any direction I choose. This morning I looked at the mirror, smiled, and realized I wasn’t staring at a stranger but looking at a friend.

I stepped out of my mind, out of my house and strangers walked up to me, asking about my shirt, my tattoos, my hat. The mask hid my smile but my crows feet must have been tap dancing around my shimmering disco ball eyes.

I have a full deck. I am kind, I am genuine, I am determined, I am empathetic, I love and want to be loved. I have bad cards too, but I’ve got a royal flush and I’m all in.

I am grateful, bowing to that mystical, cosmic energy. On my knees, not from defeat but in recognition and relief of victory.

She wore the band t-shirt I gave her before COVID cancelled the concert. I wore the band shirt she gave me the night before I wouldn’t see her for weeks after.

We met and I’m just glad I got to see her. I’m glad she got to see me. I’m glad I’m starting to see myself.

So now I look up at the stars before I go to bed and the terrors grip me, gasping in my sleep. I know I’ll wake up and have a beautiful day. And if I die before I wake, I’ll have lived a good day today.

Homophones

Exploring homophones.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Have the cents to make a fortune.
Have the sense to make a fortune.

Dwell under the air of your discontent.
Dwell under the heir of your discontent.

Explore the aisle to find your food.
Explore the isle to find your food.

Shave the hair.
Shave the hare.

Let it be.
Let it bee.

I am mail in a box.
I am male in a box.

Too much waste.
Too much waist.

It is dark in the morning.
It is dark in the mourning.

Enjoy the suite.
Enjoy the sweet.

Find your piece.
Find your peace.

I don’t know.
I don’t, no.

And my youth is…

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

And my youth
is running out
and your age
is coming
to an end
and our time
together
has been
short lived.

So when my time
comes
let it be
in the embrace
of a hug,
the verge
of a smile
or
that wave of
emotion
that crashes into
a new parent
when they hold
their child
for the first time.

Let it be
in the silent scream
of a shooting star.

Is Jesus coming before the Police?

A short piece written about a loved one’s suicide attempt. 2003.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

“Is jesus going to come before the police do?” a stampede of swine grunting, squealing and snorting away from the long splinter-scarred finger of gods only child run whole-heartedly off the edge of a cliff. The creator of everything Ferrero Rocher and pneumonia, sits behind the belt-buckle tightened around Orion’s waist. The long wrinkled finger of a guilt infected old man leads a boys gullible gaze to the twinkling stars, winking and nudging the darkness. One finger towards god but four curled back to underline the butt of his cosmic joke. A shitty Korean car idles in a closed garage. A special snorkel from exhaust to cracked window helps the old man understand the punchline. The swine fall through the roof before the chicken can get to the other side. The stars wink and nudge the darkness. “Is jesus going to come before the police do?”

Of grunting and groaning

Thoughts on politics, more specifically, the September 29, 2020 presidential debate.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Like a good American I am more concerned with what I’m having for dinner, playing with my dogs, checking to see who liked that picture of me on social media and protecting my right to leave the house freely and unencumbered. I wear a mask, of course, mostly to ward of judgement, but I do it. I’ve been keeping my distance from all of you all my life, so it’s great that everyone else knows to stay 6-feet away now as well.

A presidential debate, you say? Sure, I’ll watch. I care about the future of my backyard.

So it began.

I got up in the middle of the “debate” to roll back the sliding glass door to the back yard. My dogs ran out and sniffed for their spots in the dust patch I call a yard. The English Bulldog on left and the Boston Terrier on the right.

The bulldog scooted his hind legs underneath and pushed out his rear dumping a couple mocha jumbo-sized carrots. The terrier scooted her hind legs underneath and pushed out her rear, dumping a few dark-chocolate tootsie rolls. If I get up close to either one, I can hear them grunting.

They kicked up dust and ran back into the house.

The debate went on but I had a realization: That I could not watch my dogs take shits anymore. Why should I know so much about them as to describe the length, girth and color? All I can do as their owner, is pick up the shit and keep the yard clean and free from stench. I thought about a scenario in which I would no longer need to pick up after my dogs. When (and I hope this day is long in coming) I would have to put them BOTH down. I’d never want another dog again. A big change for sure, but a different life could be found afterwards. I could manage.

The debate ended and I thought about my grunting dogs and cleaning up their shit.

Ages 12 & Up

A short piece written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

This is the age of dissonance and divide, of fuck-you’s at school and prayers at home. The age of staring at girls. The age of exploring with fingers and untimely boners. The age of fantasizing about teachers and noticing mothers. This is the age of anger, of threatening teachers aids with a baseball bat. Of starting a reputation of unsportsmanlike conduct and hot-blooded tantrums.

Was it emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual trauma? A combination of all or any of the aforementioned? I don’t know. I hardly have any child hood memories. I feel stunted, less mature to deal with different stages of life and only until I’ve moved on to a new era or age do I feel all at once adept and inadequate all over again. Walking around pretending. An actor who highlighted the wrong parts of the script. Always wondering what it is that I am lacking and what it is so obvious to everyone but me. A theory, a specific method, a grammatical rule, a particular pronunciation, an author, a book, a piece of music or art, a historic event, an historic figure, the latest news, a cooking method, a social cue. So anxious and apprehensive about impeding my progress by misquoting, declaring a stupidity. I speak to strangers in a series or pattern of jests and facts; the language of the unconfident, the vernacular of the low-self esteemed. Sticking to things that are only true or saying things that are so over the top no one could dispute their falsehood, which is another type of truth. Steering clear of conviction or opinion or belief or individual truth. That isn’t easy. That is an un-lubricated trajectory.

What is my identity? What is my heritage? My background? My culture? I was born in the hospital of a city that was built around it. A mecca for Seventh-day Adventists wealthy enough to afford private schools but connected enough to get a discount. Long lines of last names trail the university’s history. New faces same names. A thriving enterprise in the middle of a decaying county/city. The navel-gazing institution growing to the tune of its own demand.

It’s a part of the story but not yet.

My mother was born in Spain. Emigrated to California at eighteen because she met my father. My father the son of an American soldier/missionary and a converted ex-catholic. He lived in Spain, Kenya, the pacific peninsula, and Oakland, California. From what he tells me, Oakland was tougher on him than the African wild ever was. Being the only white boy in a predominantly black school is the wrong reason to stand out. I was born the son of a teacher and a part-time hustler. My father taught Spanish, physical education and history at a small Adventist school in Redlands, California. My sister, four years younger was born the daughter of an attorney and a part-time hustler. In the time between my arrival on earth and my sisters, my father had quit teaching, moved us all to Canoga Park, Los Angeles and finished a law degree in two years.

I’m not sure how confident people are in their memories but I am not. I don’t know whether my active imagination recreated images to go along with the stories I was told so many times or if they are actual memories. In either case, none are very vivid. Foggy glimpses more than anything else. I’m also not sure if it’s my focus on the present or moving forward that makes me apprehensive about remembering things. What I do remember are emotions and lessons as they relate to this idea I have of the big picture. How things fit into the grand scheme. Exactly what or whose scheme it is, I don’t know. But I feel that I am constantly trying to zoom out, to view things from a more global perspective. When in fact I envy those who wear their hearts on their sleeves and keep the truth on the tips of their tongues.

A healthy amount of anxiety should also accompany the sudden thought of a memory. I become anxious because I have doubts that things actually happened as I remember them. And of course their are those vivid moments of drunken times that are ironically remembered. The moments of clarity that are the most clear in all the fog of the mind. Which I believe have to do with the reason why I drank. To come to terms with the way things are, to deal with life, to know that I live with a certain amount of privilege unearned brings a sharp dissonance. I do not call it guilt bit it’s a feeling of being the teacher’s pet, of being chosen first, of winning the lottery. It makes me think that god has less than pure motives for me if I am the teachers pet. But god and all the infinitesimal constructs that keep his wobbly frame standing have one fault. A fault that I will never be able to get over, even on my most optimistic days. Knowing that belief is a leap between two cliffs of knowledge or more often a leap off a cliff. The very fact that the idea of god was planted early and everything that comes with it, both good and bad are man made. Everything is man made. Our narratives put humanity at the center of the plot. Adam and Eve were to take care of the animals and the earth. But who would take care of Adam and Eve? Save for our meddling, the animals seem to be getting along fine. I will never be able to move past the thought that men continue to be confident about god. I myself can be confident about love, anger, sadness, hatred, integrity, etcetera. But what does that have to do with god? If I create my own god who is serving whom? Because I wish not to drink alcohol anymore, there are some who say that a belief in a power greater than myself is the only thing that will save me. Again if I create my god, what is saving me? And another rickety construct is born and it climbs in a jagged fashion along with the rest of the thin, beams to support an idea. An idea we call god (or whatever name) with infinitesimal foundations.

I continue to struggle with these existential thoughts but then ironically Jesus comes to mind. He was mostly about people. There are people around me all the time and when this thought crosses my mind I get disgusted with myself for staring up at the sky and ignoring what’s around me. People in my family, the people I was born to and those who are in close proximity, the people who have similarities and empathize. The people who help me and the people who need help. So I help and then I notice all the people that need help. We are everywhere. The more I help the more I realize I need help. And because I was raised to love myself as I love my neighbor I stop helping others and turn the help inwards. Some people call this selfish. They can go fuck themselves. (Which we all do anyway but because no one likes to talk about it or even recognize that it’s a normal part of life, we are offended when someone says go fuck yourself).

My interpretation of the golden rule is a good example of the constructs. Someone might hear my belief and hold a similar belief, the pastor of a mega-church may share their belief and an entire congregation will send up thousands of supports to hold up their version of the vagaries we all seem to insist upon. While I might knock down some people’s constructs, some other constructs will rise in its place, directly as a result of my cutting others down. There is no action that adds without subtracting or subtracts without adding. The idea that one is good and the other is bad is simply another part of the same vagaries we all maintain. Every person in a giant sphere. Close, but no one exactly on the same plane. Each one of us with a slightly different perspective than the person next to them. Each perspective growing more and more different until you look up and see the person directly opposite you in the sphere. You will think he is above and you below. The problem, is he may think exactly the same thing about you. So we draw lines. Lines from person to person, creating understanding. Yet this mostly fails because each line has a motive, so in reality there are two parallel lines running from person to person rather than a two way exchange, back and forth. There is instead a line for one and a line for the other: while one person shows their perspective, the other person does the same, simultaneously. Neither one paying attention to the other.

Memories

A short piece written in 2005.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I don’t have clear memories. Ask what I did yesterday and I sound like a slacking student during a pop oral exam. The ‘um’s’ and uhs start to stumble out. Luckily there is a script for moments like this, one word of dialogue, “nothing.” Which translates into nothing worth telling you about or nothing I would like to share with you. That is my answer to the question of what I did yesterday, so my childhood is a black hallway with shapes, noises and the odd flash of light on a moment. I’m not sure how other peoples memories function. Mine seems to flash on and off like hitting a flashlight with corroding batteries against my palm. But why? I’ve watched too many TV shows, films and read too many stories about children and the experiences they suppress. I’m afraid to explore for fear I may find I’ve been poked and prodded by aliens or worse, someone I know. The feeling is almost relieving. The feeling is eerily giddy, like snuggling under the covers during a storm. The feeling surrounds the thought that I may have an excuse. If what I, think is true then I’ve found my despair, the muse of all writers with lasting work and something to say. I have a reason to be miserable and pretend to enjoy other peoples company. If what I think is true then ill have a cigarette, hell ill have a black and mild and suck it back until it melts the plastic or burns the wood. Depending on who did what ever it is I think might have been done, I may have a drink. Hell, I may even go on a week-long binge because everything I know is a lie, the mirror I’ve been staring at has shattered before my eyes. If what I think happened actually happened. where do I start? Ask my mom if her only son may have been treated like a flesh-light? Will I honestly be traumatized? No doubt if such a thing is true I will be shocked if I discover who it was. However I’m not convinced that the trauma of the discovery will out-weigh my excitement about the possibilities of a reaction. Do I somehow wish that I was a kiddie who was diddled simply to justify a drink? Yes and who would blame me? Any reaction other than a drunk binge would seem strange. If I don’t remember what difference does it make to me if someone tells me its true? Reliving a memory is not the same as repeating a fact. The difference is between standing in the shallow end and thrashing in the deep end.

Is who I am the result of this possible event? My skepticism blurring with cynicism, my tight lipped nature, my apprehension at physical touch, the duality of my personality split between my family and myself. The truth is an open festering wound but with enough morphine…what’s on TV?

Orion’s Belt

A short piece written about my grandfather in 2017.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My grandfather was a mechanic. I remember the bar of soap he used to clean off his hands. A dry bar with deep black and grey grooves. I wasn’t sure which was doing the cleaning; his hands or the bar. At the dinner table I distinctly remember how clean his hands appeared. The smell of his shirt a mixture of sweat and grease. It was a comforting smell. A smell I wanted to emit when I became a man. Before every meal I would hold hands with my grandparents while my grandpa blessed the food. After dinner he would read his bible, old and worn with nearly every page highlighted, underlined or dog-eared. His favorite book was Revelation. He always talked about Jesus coming back and taking us home. How he couldn’t wait for the day Jesus came back. How it wouldn’t be long now before Jesus came home. He pointed out all of the signs in Revelation and said how we were living in end times.

I remember the things he said. At the time they didn’t mean very much but now thinking about him they make me sad. My grandfather isn’t alive anymore but before he died in his nineties he tried to end his life in his seventies.

Entering my grandfathers garage from inside the house I was met with the heavy smell of grease mixing with my grandfathers body odor. After walking My grandfathers garage was a monument to tools and craftsmanship.

Looking back now the things I wish he would have taught me like how to change the oil in a car, change the brakes, check the fluids, take apart and re-build an engine, all of those things he always stopped when I got to his house. Instead he taught me about the bible and about Jesus. I think I’ve gotten past deconstructing everything he told me. Now I’m at the point where I am reconstructing Jesus, the bible and my cultural/religious upbringing for myself.

From what I’ve gathered, everyone, upon reaching adulthood does some relearning and reconstructing of things they were taught as children. Well this has been the most painful, slow remodel of all the constructs so far. The way life goes, the reconstructing will probably never end.

When I was four years old my grandfathers white Chevrolet station wagon broke down on the 5 interstate on our way from Oakland to Redlands, CA. I was in the back seat by myself, my grandma in the front passenger seat and my grandpa driving. I only know this because my grandma doesn’t drive. The rest of the story I’m not sure if I remember or if I’ve heard so many times that I’ve mixed it in with my memories. I’ve filled in a few details. It doesn’t matter.

The Chevy breaks down, grandpa grumbles and grunts out of the drivers seat and lifts the hood of the car. Grandma’s jet black beehive hair turns around and she smiles showing the wide gap in her front teeth. She gets out of her seat, grabs some blankets from the trunk and sits with me in the back. Grandpa walks back from using the call box and gets in the back seat on the other side. It’s a cold night and I’m snuggled between grandpa and grandma while we wait for the highway patrol to show up. We’d been waiting for a couple of hours. While we sit their Grandpa points out the stars through the sun roof.

I have a vivid memory of his finger dotting the sky, leaving tiny bright lights in ancient shapes. My grandfather did this on more than one occasion. I remember my grandpa telling me where Jesus would come from when he came back to earth.

“You see that star right in the middle of Orion’s belt? That’s where Jesus is right now. That’s where He (capital H) is going to come from to take us home. That’s where heaven is.”

Presumably where Jesus cleansed the temple, leaving many disappointed millerites and thus a new cell of religions virus split off and they called it Seventh-Day Adventism.

After my grandpa said this, they tell me that I sat their staring at the middle star in Orion’s belt . They tell me that I looked like I was thinking. Then, they tell me I said this, “Is Jesus going to come before the police do?”

They did. The police came and drove us to a motel 6. And that’s it.

At the hotel, they tell me I was so restless I jumped from bed to bed before crashing. A couple of hours later my aunt came and drove us the rest of the way home.

But when they tell me, they stop after what I said. And while they are laughing and smacking the table I think about that little kid and everything he saw after that night. Everything I remember.

11 years later, when I was 15. My grandparents now living in Redlands, a few minutes away from my house. My grandfather started his car, closed the garage, and breathed in the exhaust from a hose he pinched in the driver’s side window that ran into the exhaust pipe. He sat and waited for Jesus to come.

But again, the cops came before Jesus could. My grandma found him in the garage and dialed 911 just in time.

Then I ran. I ran from everything, including my roots in the Adventist church, a part of my culture. I denied any affiliation with Adventists and hated the fact that I knew what Nuteena and stripples were. That I knew what the blood of the lamb was supposed to mean even though I didn’t really understand it. I hated the fact that I felt guilty about listening to music that made my head bob and felt guilty about smoking and drinking. So I drank more and thought about a god that let my grandpa down. If jesus couldn’t save my devout grandfather, what chance did I have?

But I never blamed my grandpa. In fact for many years I defended him saying that suicide is taking matters into your own hands. I would tell myself that he was like Hunter S. Thompson and went out on his own terms, knowing that he always would. I was kidding myself.

I don’t know about a moral to these stories.

The questions of god, purpose and existence zip around in an infinite loop in my head. I do know this, the pedestal I built for my grandfather no longer exists but the love I feel for him is still alive. I remember giving him a hug at the behavioral medical clinic where they took him on a 5150 after his suicide attempt. He was wearing a gown, his eyes glassed over from the cup-o-pills, and his few remaining hairs tousled. he gave me a dopey smile and a big hug.

I experienced my own great disappointment and it was my grandpa that disappointed me. He clung to the church like a lush grips their liquor. And now he’s a husk of what I remember. If spirituality is the ocean and religion is the vessel my grandfather never learned how to swim. And when the storms came, the foundation he clung to didn’t hold up. The great disappointment wasn’t a singular event, my grandpa relives it every single day.

Parental Advice Versus the advertising industry

A short piece written in 2011.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Advice. The combination of advertisements and vice. The persuasion of vice on the platforms of advertisements. Blond, full-lipped women felating glass bottles of fizzy brown sugar water. A smooth skin-chiseled man with Greek statue muscles grips a hamburger between perfect fingers. Ketchup, mustard, relish and a slice of tomato fall onto his chest after a monstrous bite. His hand swiping a golden starch-stick to wipe up the burger ejaculate.


“Son, what you need is a good woman. I don’t necessarily mean a good looking woman, because you can be attracted to a lot of women. By a good woman, I mean a woman you can talk to. A woman that you can be around after you’ve gotten over your urges. The truth is they all have vaginas, so what you really want to look for is what’s on the inside. Because after a while you won’t be young any more, you’ll get older and you’ll hopefully grow a little wiser, which means you’ll have more depth and when you get to that point, looks won’t be the most important thing anymore, especially if you’re with a really good woman. The type of woman you get along with, you can talk to, laugh with, tease, fight with. The type of woman who is her own person and who isn’t concerned with the way she looks before being concerned with the way she feels. That’s the kind of woman you want son. They all have vaginas so don’t get distracted by that. Look for a woman you can talk to.”

Advice. The warning label on a pack of cigarettes is no substitute for experience. The unwritten hacking, scratchy-throated, black-lunged history of the losers destined to repeat itself. Maybe a gap in generations but bloody sputum just the same because the apple doesn’t rot far from the tree.

Golf

A short piece written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

When I was around eleven years old, my dad got me a set of golf clubs. There were five clubs. A driver, a putter, a 5-iron, a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. All the clubs needed to start and finish a hole. My dad’s not a golfer. Neither am I, but we both have clubs.


Dad and I used to play once every year at my high schools tournament. We played with another father and son who were as equally skilled and practiced as we were. The tournament rules were that each team played the best ball hit; meaning all four of us would hit our dimpled balls, then select which shot was best for the next shot. We never won. Our highest achievement was second to last, which was a change of pace from our usual dead last position. Our foursome had the most fun guaranteed.


When the tournaments ended all the teams headed to the closing ceremony. While all the other teams were asking around, checking their scores against everyone else, we waltzed in thinking only of food and the memories of the day. When my dad sent a drive skidding along the grass just short of the ladies tees. When my buddy and his dad drove too fast in the cart and spun out on the slope of a hill. When all four of us spent 10 minutes searching for ALL of our balls in grass up to our knees. We remembered the collective nervousness of being forced to drive in front of other teams as we slowed the pace of the tournament, (spending 10 minutes a hole looking for little white balls adds up).


So by the time we arrived at the club house, we had no idea how many strokes we shared. The math would have been far too complicated and unnecessary. There was no talk of mulligans or handicaps. The other teams, upon arriving at the table at which we were already stuffing our faces, would begin to smile before even asking, “what was your score?” I can’t speak for all four of us but I know what I saw in each of their eyes. My father, ever the diplomat, would smile and say something to the affect of, “Oh, we didn’t keep score. We just play for fun.” It was true. In those moments however, when those men came with the full knowledge that we had not come close to anyone in the tournament, I wanted to play to win. Fuck fun, I wanted murder.


At age 30, I began playing golf again. By this time my father had bought me a few more clubs. I also borrowed quiet a few of his clubs. Between the days of playing golf with my dad and our friends much had transpired. I developed a tooth, much like those teeth given the “sweet” nomenclature. My tooth, teeth, tongue had developed a liking for alcohol. I went to rehab, struggled with the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous and with sponsors but those are experiences for another chapter. One virtue I learned from those experiences was discipline. Golf takes an incredible amount of discipline and patience. Not typically the virtues of young men and definitely not my forte.

Blackout Drinking

A short piece written in 2005.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The first time I reached zombie state. My body was still moving but my mind was gone. Bumping into people and things full of alcohol, hops and vomit jostling around after every step. I don’t think I ever felt better in my life. I had on a button up shirt and some jeans, I mumbled something unintelligible through shiny lips and heavy eyes. I saw someone smoking a cigarette that I would have never imagined. My threshold for surprise is changing right before my eyes, which are going blind. Oh god pull over now. Jesus. Ive never felt worse in my life.


BLACK
BLACK
BLACK
BLACK
BLACK

Night writing

A paragraph written in 2010.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s another night when my eyes close and open slowly. The ink oozes out of the pen from lazy twists of my wrist. A lonely moonlit bassoon plays discordant notes in my mind. Sympathy bangs the timpani and I scowl. Just a quiet solo and some time to listen until the moonlit bassoonist runs out of breath and the mood music stops. A thousand miles of empty desert in all directions is more company than the shadow over my eyes.

Telling Dad I drink too much

A short experience written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Hey dad, I think I drink too much. I’ve had alcohol at parties but I’m starting to find that I’m drinking or having more drinks outside of parties than I do when I am at them. I drink to do homework or stay in my room and drink. I’ve even gone to a few classes after drinking. I’m not sure what to do and I know sometimes for some things, they get worse before they get better and I wanted to nip this in the bud just in case this was one of those things. Well, thanks for listening.


“Hello. Yes my father sent me over here to talk about, well I think I’m drinking too much. I drink all the time. Do I think I’m an alcoholic? Well I don’t know. I’m not always red faced and waddling around. I mean I keep a little stubble on my face and my hair isn’t really styled but I don’t drink out of a paper bag and live under a bridge, I’m in college and I’m doing well, academically.”


“Whiskey mostly. I drink beer too, 40 ounces at a time when I do but most of the time whiskey because it gets me to the feeling quicker and to be honest I don’t feel as heavy when I drink it. Yeah, that’s true all of the people I know drink, it seems normal at my age. You’re probably right. College is a unique experience. I’m sure it’s just a phase too, you’re right. Thank you, I feel better. Oh well, and you seem to be doing alright. So I think I’ll be fine. Thank you for your time, how much will that be? Okay, do you take cheques? Perfect. Thanks again. Oh and thank you for the copy of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

A lunch from a long time ago

A short piece written in 2011 or 2012

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My aunt pregnant for the first time loses her baby. I am sad but I am too young to understand the impact a tragedy of that magnitude has on the person closest to it.
My aunt is a strong woman, full of love, confidence and wit. Perhaps a judgmental, albeit human, eye with a warm hug regardless of how she see’s you.
I make a habit of pushing myself into the spotlight of my mind but cuing the music to cut myself off early on the stage of life. My thoughts consume my relation to everything and everyone. I have learned that I need not waste time on people now if I will see them in heaven. What am I saying, there is no heaven. Childhood teachings are really sticky.
My narcissism is making me sick but I can’t stop thinking about me. The earth revolves around the sun, not the son of Christofer and Ester Chapman.

A lunch with my Aunt in which I cannot clearly remember if I was intoxicated or not. I remember itching for a cigarette as soon as I wolfed down the turkey salad on rye. I remember shaking my head and repeating “I’m fine, no, I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m okay.” The first lie we tell ourselves to convince the mirror that it will never shatter. My aunt relayed an observation about my 5-year-old self that has lingered and wriggled around in the back of my mind like a severed lizards tail.

Something changed when I was 5 years old. I can’t remember my childhood. It is as fuzzy as a booze fueled night on the town (or in my apartment). What happened to me? My heart races. Perhaps, this will be the tragic excuse of molestation. A victim of pedophilia turned poet. A writer who has been in the gutter and can paint it in a perfect-bound, hard cover copy of his first novel. How can I use this for immortality? I want to live forever. That narcissism can’t pull its gaze from the reflection.

My aunt lost a baby, maybe even two and I’m left wondering if I’ve ever been touched inappropriately or left in a toxic environment. Where do I get off feeling sorry for myself? Nothing has ever happened to me that I cannot handle. And there it is again that me word. Its all about me. Not you or him or her or them or it. Its all about me and yet I put myself in the lowest category of the last file in the dustiest, rustiest cabinet of life and all humanity but I insist to myself that everything is about me. Every hug, kiss, smile, squeeze, laugh, smirk, giggle, round of applause, slap on the back, is all about me. I am narcissistic and I don’t even think very highly of myself. Am I truly this selfish or do I indulge for the namesake of these pages? Both are scary prospects for an obsession that runs circles around my attention to anything else.

I have an excuse but you are simply stupid. I made a mistake but you have ruined my life. I forgot but you are careless. I am sick but you are lazy. I was wronged but you don’t stand up for yourself. I had a bad day but you have a bad attitude. I may gossip but you should get a life. I am frustrated but you simply don’t know what to do. I am not perfect but you think you’re better than me. I have an excuse but you are just stupid.

What is really going on here? The words follow the emotion, which rushes in after an experience. I feel less like a swan and more like a parrot. Obsessed with my own image and copying the noises closest to me. To be clawing through the same self absorbed drivel, session after writing session is enough to make me want to rip out my own heart and feed it to my brain just to get a taste of pure emotion. I am supposed to write for myself not about myself. This constant cycle of narcissistic thought is welling up in my chest I want to scratch out every letter “I”, “m”, “e” and hyper drive into some god like perspective. An uninvolved point of view. Place myself on the objective alter and slit my throat letting the Deus ex Machina of my psyche take over. To sever and shatter the ego from the self. Who am I supposed to be? Don’t follow me. We’re getting back into those dark slimy corners of the mind again. So deep down that I must slowly return like a deep sea diver coming up for air. Too fast and the chaos never leaves. Attempting never to dwell in the past I move ever forward so fast that the hair is being ripped off the front of my head and sticking to my back. Time whips past me and the closest I’ve ever come to the truth is a question. Does anyone get this right?

Shitstorm

A short fictional piece from a long time ago.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

“You’re a good writer.”

Lucy always told me that after I mentioned a new piece I was working on. I never believed her. I never believed anyone unless they told me they didn’t like it. I have no confidence in my writing. I think that’s why I keep doing it. Once I stood up on a surfboard I called it quits. I had done it.

That’s the problem with me, I need reassurance. I keep track of dates, remember peoples birthdays, show up at the same place at the same time every day until we apologetically call in with a raspy voice in between vomits to tell our bosses we can’t come in today (I’m not a fan of run on sentences, they never seem to end).

I guess it’s all a cruel joke. I write because my head fills up. Like a gray cloud and when it rains it pours. A class four hurricane is less chaotic. A confident writer is like a four-eyed teen on his first date. I try to believe it but I’ll always know the truth.

If I could just have it all; confidence, whit, humility, a fresh perspective, a unique point of view without any pretension. I might be happy. I might be able to participate in my own existence rather than simply write about it.

Lucy thinks I should let loose. I’m neither up nor down and unless I’m interested, nothing sticks. My interests are excessively fickle for any promises. I drink to have conversations, to care, to show concern and consideration (Next I’ll try expressing myself with words that begin with the letter D).

It takes everything I have to be sincere. being drunk simply makes the spinning slow down for a while. Or maybe the spinning speeds up so fast I don’t notice that I can’t concentrate. Blackout. Either way alcohol nurtures society but absolutely obliterates the individual. I choose not to be a martyr for booze. I don’t believe I ever had the courage to live absolutely on the fringe. Yet I have just enough disdain to keep the television off.

You or me

A short piece, September 16, 2020

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It is far riskier to live than to be dead. I will die, so I may as well behave as if I never will. Life is made miserable by the well-intended and mal-intended alike. Both similar in their impositions on life, though one may have the self in mind while the other follows their ego.

In the quest for all our somethings, we choose to be seen by what we do for ourselves or by what we do for others. I want to consider the other but not at the expense of self. I want to consider the self but not at the expense of the other.

Existentialism lacking altruism or altruism lacking existentialism. A panacea for existence does not exist.

And so, remember, I wrote this under a yellow porch light, slapping at mosquitoes, coughing up smoke from wild fires and thinking of me or you, or me.

The Fool’s Pleading

A short piece. I don’t know.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The panting dogma of nuns, “O God, God, wherefore art thou God?”

A burlesque bureaucracy.

Earthen gates whisper of conspiracy. They have no plans other than “hold on tight, stick to the script.” Creativity be banished, taken down into the fires of hell where they will be forged with the devil’s brand. Rising as dead souls battling the young. A past that has already traveled and seen fighting against a speeding future. And the present whispering into the ear of tomorrow, “full steam ahead, cowboy.”

The mulling query of Darwins, “O Truth, Truth, wherefore art thou Truth?”

An algorithmic disco.

Where am I to derive the juices flowing from the nut in my skull, its fruit spilling viscous memory and fantasy in the same drop? What’s in my head? Will I be the breath of tomorrow’s baby or the mustard gas of victory’s soldier? Standing in a smoky battlefield, squinting through tears to find a shape like mine. Whom will I become?

The pandering memes of Narcissus, “O Me, Me, wherefore art thou Me?”

A tango of mirrors.

Follow me and I shall follow me. That is the golden rule. Achievement of the cracking of the nut, opening to a seed of nothing. Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you only lies. Traveling through the haze maze, the last marine on the beach. The spirit testing my muscle with its fluttering.

Watch the temple crumble in its own skin folding under the coat of gravity. Destruction by the hands fumbling in the dark relying only on memory. Is it where we be or where we are from that twists and pulls at our subconscious minds? Shaping us through the heavy bars of past and future tense, our hands only need to reach out and grasp the memory of cold metal, that taste of iron on the tongue, our memories and all the agony as useless as our blood. Never present.

We survive as animals but live as more. Begetters impossibly tasked with protecting fresh souls. Those tenacious in their duties receiving only resentment as thanks. Push them, gripping at the bars, to the signs ahead. God is the time we have here. Love it. Nourish it. Worship it. Find another life and share it with them, living one and living an others’ vicariously.

The collapsing heart of the writer, “O Wall, Wall, wherefore art thou Wall?”

A decaying waltz.

The lonely freedom of a star in the sun’s sky.

To become un-tethered from the darkness of all we think we know, only to find we’re suspended in a vast emptiness, alone on that island of confidence. Peering over the edge, tilting that careful balance of assurance and sending the mind spiraling down again. Sit in the middle. Creating tethers. Battling the force of emotion, so fast and fickle with its betrayal of memory. The force of wounded spirits capable of wounding. The blind lead the blind, those that can see, stop and look. We cannot help, we can only hope to carry each other. To feel the weight of another is to realize it’s heavier than our own. To love.

I want to cage that spirit living within, but I must sit in the middle.

The echoes of rejoicing muted by the island’s sands. Drowned by waves of realization that we are sound itself reverberating off of infinity’s pretzel-ed pipe.

The muted programming of Eve, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Would that we could hold hands, screaming forever, licking the juices of that forbidden fruit.

Social Security

A short poem, 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A little boy sat on a bench in a park,
watching old men play their game. 

One moved his piece,
they frowned and they slouched,
then the other accomplished the same. 

The castles moved straight,
the horses made hooks
as the black and white shapes met their fate. 

The boy slightly shifted,
his gaze never lifted,
as the sun slowly made her escape.

The men’s eyes creased wrinkles
as moves spotted became twinkles
and their hands became part of the pieces. 

The boy closed his eyes,
looked up to the skies
and asked god why this game never ceases. 

God gave its reply
in the form of a sigh
but the men and their game stayed the same. 

The boy shook with cold,
looked back at the old
and decided that he would proclaim:

“I know I’m too young
for all of your fun
but it’s getting quite cold you see. 

My mother is waiting
but I’m still debating
if this is the game for me. 

I wanted to know
before I did grow
who would be left with his king. 

So I’m asking quite nicely
if you’ll play concisely
and finish this game before spring.”

The men gave a chuckle,
one grabbed his buckle,
as the boy cocked his head to the side. 

The old men gave advice,
hoping that would suffice
but the boy sauntered right up beside. 

Without making a scene,
he reached for the Queen
and moved in a line that was straight. 

The old eyes got wide,
the boy swelled with pride
as the man on the right cried,
“Checkmate!”

Kids

A short story, 2018.

By Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I stepped out of the Vault.  I could only stomach so many drinks on open mic night.  I lit a cigarette and closed my eyes for the first inhale.  The pure puff.  I didn’t need a reason to drink but the first cigarette after wetting my throat was as good as any.  I could feel the smoke coating all the way down to my esophagus.  I held for a second then let the smoke waft out of my mouth.

I had gone out by myself.  The feeling was exhilarating because I knew how others looked at the lonely guy at the bar.  Going to parties or out with friends was predictable.  Sure, I would laugh and make others laugh but there were so many other emotions.  I flicked my cigarette and headed for the underground bar located two blocks away.  I had only been there twice before.  The crowd out front usually consisted of sun burnt felons with purchase stickers on their flipped-up baseball caps.  The thought and the alcohol made my blood angry.  I lit another cigarette to relieve the unwanted stress.  Rounding a corner, I looked across the street at the entrance.  A kid about 7 years old stood out front squatting down, tilting back and forth.  After crossing the street, I saw it was a little girl.  I was curious.

     “What are you doing out here?”

She didn’t look up but responded cheerily.

     “Waiting for my mommy.”

It was nearly midnight.

     “Where is she?”

I became conscious of my cigarette.

     “She’s downstairs.”

     “In the bar?”

I flicked my cigarette away from her.

     “Yeah.”

I thought about being noble and telling her mom off but decided that getting rid of my cancer stick was enough.

     “Okay, well be careful up here.”

     “Okay.”

     “And don’t talk to strangers.”

     “Okay.”

It wouldn’t ruin my evening because nothing beats the excitement of entering a bar.  It feels like waiting for the ball to drop at the roulette table.  Except the odds are always in my favor.  I walked up to the bar and placed my bet.

     “A jack and coke, please and a pint of whatever.”

I pushed the chair next to me a few inches further away.  I always got too restless at the counter.  The barkeep came back with my drinks and grabbed the money I put on the table.  I was a winner.  What I did with my winnings was unpredictable.  Often, I never knew how an evening would end.  I finished off the jack and coke in three gulps.  There was more beer, so it took a few more swigs.  It was time for a cigarette.  The trip upstairs was a little more cautious than the jog down.  I had plenty of time to pad my fresh pack, rip the plastic, tear the paper and flip a fag up with my thumb.  I pulled the cigarette out with my lips and stepped outside.  A couple were doubled over laughing and trying to say…something.  I smiled and raised my eyebrows as I fished for my lighter. 

The boyfriend made his way to me.

     “Dude, dude, dude.”

     “What’s up?”  I chuckled to be polite, but his laughter was contagious.

     “We just saw this homeless man.”

This sent them both into a guffaw.  I sent out an amused snort, realizing I was trapped, at least until he got to the punchline.  The girlfriend composed herself.

     “We saw this homeless guy walk by and his pants were sagging all the way down PAST his ass.”

The boyfriend picked it up from there.

     “And he was pushing his cart in front of him and shuffling like Frankenstein.”

The two lost it again and I thought about correcting the boyfriend.  Doctor Frankenstein was the creator of the creature.  The creature had no name.  A device probably used to further the creatures struggle with its identity.  I realized I was boring myself and didn’t think the couple would give a shit about what I had gleaned from my literary criticism class.

     The couple’s laughter died down and we talked.

     “I’m Charlie, Cigarette?”  I offered.

I don’t remember their names, but we talked.  Where you from?  What do you do?  How long have you lived there?  They were nearing the fork in the conversation where strangers either become friends or never see each other again.  Then the boyfriend said something that really impressed me.

     “Well now that the bullshit is out of the way, how about some weed?”

I thought about it for a few cigarette drags.

     “I appreciate the offer, but I had an experience with a demon in a bathroom the last time I mixed.”

     “Oh shit, you trip out?”

     “You could say that.”

     “I’m sorry bro.”

     “No worries, now I mainly stick to spirits.”

     “Then let’s get a drink!”

We hoofed downstairs and livened up the near empty underground bar.  We ordered drinks.  The couple would talk.  I would talk then we would all laugh.  Nothing would be remembered in the morning.  We all spoke freely. The girl sat down while the boyfriend and I laughed and patted each other on the back.

The boyfriend was getting horny.

     “Babe, you tired?  You want to leave?”

     “No let’s just get out of here.”

     “She’s right.”  I said, “This place is dead.  Let’s go to the Vault.  It’s a bar just a couple blocks away.  I want a cigarette anyway.”

We started our final trek up the stairs and the boyfriend shouted out.

     “Fuck this place!”

I laughed and high-fived him while his girlfriend looked mortified. 

I was drunk.  I handed out cigarettes and cut across the street toward the Vault.  By this time all the amateurs would be gone.  It was time to do some drinking.  The boyfriend ordered us three beers.  I was extremely grateful, but I ordered another jack and coke.  I didn’t like to take chances. 

We bullshit some more.  The couple danced.  I can never remember names.  Then the girl danced alone.  I was towing the line between drunk and insanity.  I sat quietly responding on auto-pilot.  The girl stopped dancing and the boy went to the bathroom.  She sat across from me and stared into my eyes.  She bit her lip.  Leaning on one arm she slid her finger up and down her bra strap. 

I watched the tip of her finger from the top of her shoulder to the top of her breast.  Her leg touched mine and mimicked the motion of her finger.  I looked toward the bathroom.  I stood up somber and put a cigarette in my mouth.

     “Cigarette?”  I offered.

She didn’t take the bait and continued lusting.  I looked toward the bathroom.

     “I think I’m going to take off.  Where did your boyfriend go?  What was his name?”

     “Why don’t you stick around.  He’ll be in there for a while.  He’s sick.”

     “Oh, well I’ll give him a cigarette when he comes out and call it a night.”

I was intently staring at the bathroom and looked up.  I wanted to get the fuck out of there.

     “Here, why don’t you give him the cigarette.  I’m in and out of consciousness.”

I handed her the cigarette.  She continued to stare. I could feel her horny, cheating eyes following me out the door. I stepped out of the Vault and lit a cigarette.  I closed my eyes, feeling the smoke coat my throat, esophagus and lungs.  I exhaled.  Alone again.

Vitriol

A short piece, September 10, 2020.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

You might read this and you might know me, or at least think that you do, but only those close right now know what I’m up to. I’m not the past, I’m not my experiences, or my family. Those may inform my choices but I am really only what I choose to do right now. So fuck you.

I sharpen my pencil when the letters get fatter on the page. Like a drop of blood sucked into the syringe of an addicts needle, you turn away your attention when my words bleed into your idea of me, just before plunging in your comfortable narrative.

Me? What a crazy concept. A ball of indie movies and music with arms and feet. A scarecrow mixed with contrarianism and a middle finger.

If you want it, chances are I don’t. if you’re talking about it, chances are I haven’t heard it. If you photograph it, chances are it’s not worth remembering.

This piece of vitriol brought to you by truth. Truth discovered by waving a machete through the dank foliage of your hashtags, peace signs, fake idealism and fear masked by makeup and dancing. Hacking at your need to defend yourself when no on is attacking.

My tips getting fat, it needs to sharpen again. It reminds me of you, I think you should get sharper too. Stop talking about what they tell you to talk about and start talking about why they tell you anything in the first place.

If you’re really against “flaming hot cheetos” that run “democracies” (your word, not mine) like dictators, then either put a bullet in his head or give your jabbering jaw a little slack. I know at least my ears will stop ringing from all your white noise, and it is white noise in more ways than one.

I am a man

A short poem, 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I cry
I curl up under blankets with my hands between my knees and feel safe
I squeal and feel my heart bouncing when I see my dog or baby cousin
My body is beautiful with all its hair
I admire my tattoo’s
I take time to do my hair
I enjoy compliments
I have a hot temper
I am confident in changing a tire
I tremble when jumping a car battery
I struggle with expressing emotion
I feign humbleness when receiving a compliment
I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner
I am a man

I was a lover

A short piece from 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I was a lover before this war and don’t tell me that mental pictures created by TV on the Radio don’t have the power to change chemistries. I am weary, sick and scarred from too many battles in the war of who could care less. When Uncle Ben Folds Five times and still doesn’t learn that the house of the Rising Sun never loses. We know then for whom the bell tolls. A sickening ring that continues its echo, repeating its cold brass answer.

It tolls for thee, for me, for she, and for he. And I refuse to continue wincing at questions of christianity (lowercase, improper noun) or other. It’s not as simple as loving my brother. So I shrug my shoulders at religion, at theology, and democracy, my politics apply only to me. I shrug at the dividing notions of this versus that because I wish to see through he and through she before I get to me.

I walk barefoot on the sand to feel the process of my steps. In the sun or in front of the stars. I open my eyes to fill my mind with everything the light reflects. My ears are open to fill something inside that can’t be described. To write is the most frustrating thing because there are emotions and experiences that will never exist in words. The contrast between black shapes on white space.

I was a lover before this war and I already know the ending. The question of my last breath is either sober or whiskey soaked. The continuous monologue in my mind reaches the end of its reel. I am not making sense but its my senses that make me. I don’t wish to Confucius you but the way of the tao (lowercase, improper noun) is better paved than that of christianity (lowercase, improper noun). If christ (lowercase, improper noun) was the way then that way was tao (you know).

Delirium Tremens

A short piece about the experience of alcohol consumption from 2014.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Fade up on a moment of clarity. Enter SELF.

SELF
It occurs to me the faith I will
need as one by one my brain cells
are killed in action. How many
neural connections do I require
before I divorce completely from
all logic and reason?


A shadow is cast over self. Enter EGO.

EGO
Will I transform into a carnivorous
vegetable reminiscent of a 1950’s
horror film: eating only everything
that comes close to my drooling
mouth?
(beat)
It’s only fitting that a man with
the caliber of a water pistol be
the recipient of a horrible, slow,
embarrassing death.

SELF
Is it actually dying or more of a
shift in existence?

Stars bounce around the periphery, disappearing before the
eyes rack focus. I, we cough.

SELF (CONT’D)
Sober now, my eyes, ears, nose,
tongue, and nerve endings sharpen
focus. I sense the rawness of
reality manifesting on my lower
legs. A bought of eczema, just
begging a handful of jagged
fingernails to claw, scratch, and
tear it off.
(Down on knees)
Just a minuscule drop of relief. A
small taste please.

I, we wheeze.

EGO
Sobriety, the stoic’s drunkenness.
It all still feels fake.

BACK TO:

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT
I am visiting the set of my favorite TV show for the first
time. The dissected apartment disillusions me. A RED GLOW
bounces off my face in harmony with the electronic HUM and
CLICK of flashing signs marked ‘applause.’

3 OMITTED
thru
1346


1347 INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT (CONTINUOUS)
I wake up rubbing my temple. GOD, an octogenarian with a full
head of white hair, exits the building. However, its
SCREECHING echoes still crash around my head.

GOD
(Sniveling)
My son did not commit suicide. You
killed him.

I step out into the light. Blinking like an old projector, I
take in the images at increasing frame rates.

24 FRAMES PER SECOND
I lick my lips.

30 FRAMES PER SECOND
The corners of my mouth defy gravity.

60 FRAMES PER SECOND
Through cracked lips, an unfamiliar voice squeezes out a
SUBTITLE:

ID
(Submerged)
I’m out in society.

Familiar voices respond.

SELF
Is this me?

EGO
Or some other beast entirely?

I wipe SMOKE out of my eyes. The angst making a meal of my
LIVER, LUNGS, SPINE, and ever more fragile GREY MATTER.

SELF
The only advice I have been willing
to flood me has been vice.
Acceptance needs to seep in.
Drained dry and clean of my old mentor.

SELF (CONT’D)
It has to.

The echoes of my ego still reverberate in the walls of my
skull. Spiraling down my spine, giving us CHILLS, SPASMS,
and NAUSEA while gripping a toilet bowl.

I, we stick to the script.

ID
I’m okay.

The new mantra begins to sink in like an unused snip of 8MM FILM in a tar pit (slowly).

EGO
I’m okay.

ZOOM IN
One thousand raised pink SLASHES from wrist to armpit.

SELF
I’m okay.

FLASHBACK
BLOOD drips, spelling out a phrase on the floor:
“Blood: I”M OKAY.”

An ellipsis SPLATTERS on the linoleum behind the mantra:
“BLOOD: …”
I inhale.

INT. EMPTY SHELL OF A MAN – QUITTING TIME
The partiers arrive. The bouncer lifts the rope, introducing
4,000 queer chemicals to the pulmonary party. They work the
room and make acquaintances with the rest of the body.

Reluctant to leave at last call, the SMOKE stumbles out
leaving sticky SCUFF-MARKS on the dance floor.
(On judgement day I’ll
still most likely say…)

GOD
I’m okay.

SELF
I’m okay.

CUT TO:

Fake dog

By Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I have a fake dog, it’s made out of plastic. Everyday I forget him but he is always excited when I come home. He eats twice a day but I never give him any food. He sleeps on the couch but I only have a bed. He is a chick magnet but there are never any chicks. He’s a good fake boy.

Where are my teeth?

A short piece of prose, or something.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

You get so up in your head that you want to flash back to your BMX with the two pegs to ride down the street and back as fast as you can.

Weeks go by. Years go by.

You get so far into your projections. You want to change.

Years go by. Decades go by.

You see your family the same but they’ve all changed but they haven’t stayed the same. You make the same mistakes but with bigger consequences. All around you the t-shirts change, the science changes, sensitivity changes but it’s all still the same.

The body ages but the mind grows chaotic: A frantic camper in the rain racing to drive down stakes into mud. Stuck to stories growing mold, fuzzy but always staying the same.

The sandman doesn’t sprinkle you with dust. St. Nick can’t give you what you want. Christ could be relatable if only he’d made mistakes. You bought the world’s spirits, elixirs and potions but snake oils only erase time for nothing in return. The tooth fairy took all your teeth but I think she also has your innocence, and you never saw a dime.

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup. Too many voices in your head spoil the creativity. You can spend time but you can never buy it.

The only option is to drive down stakes into moments you never want to let slip.

Tonight

August 23, 2020

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I bounce my legs to keep the flies, gnats and mosquitoes from biting my feet. My elbows jump out to shoo them away. It’s still 90 degrees out, whatever that means. There is a breeze and the sun is blocked by a neighbors trees three houses west of mine. The wall unit is buzzing. A pool has formed from the steady drip of water, soaking the mat on the back porch. The dogs are splayed on the linoleum inside.

Saul’s visiting his kid. His bed is still in the living room. With only the wall unit to cool the house, we sleep in the living room, me on the couch, Saul drags out his mattress. Tonight he’s sleeping at his kid’s grandparents house.

I got a tattoo on Friday, wearing a mask the whole time. It’s a small piece, a couple of words, “live deliciously.” The implications are of pursuing a Bacchanalian existence. An almost ironic statement given the amount of societal distancing lately and, possibly for the foreseeable future.

I can hear the parrots that roost nearby in the Summer. Not native to Southern California but escaped from a local pet shop and thriving in their own gurgling, trilling, whistling and squawking bacchanal. I envy them tonight, and many nights lately.

I let baby girl out. She’s sitting at my feet, panting. I look down at her when the neighbor’s dogs bark but she doesn’t seem interested.

In a few minutes I’ll head inside to paint but I don’t feel like I can abandon my writing before landing on some deeper meaning, some understanding for the day. Today, perhaps, I must be satisfied with simply writing about the present.

What it’s like to meet a wonderful woman in the midst of divorce.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s like washing up on shore after shipwreck and a two-day storm. You need time to figure out what happened, where you are but you still get down on your knees and kiss the sand.

It’s like wandering through the desert for 28 days. You’re thirsty, hungry, lips cracked, skin red and aching but you’re grateful for the water at the oasis. However, you’re still wondering what happened, where you are.

It’s like crawling for hundreds of miles on your elbows and knees and someone, suddenly, helps you to stand. You are grateful and relieved but also feeling tired and looking down at your bloody joints.

It’s like buying a plot of land, planting one thousand seeds, watering, weeding and watching the plants grow, for years, until at the point of harvest, they bear fruit and someone comes at gun point to take it from you. You wander off the property and are suddenly given land that is double the size with fruit ready to be picked. You wonder how, why, where you are and what happened but you’re all at once grateful, excited and ready to move on. At the same time, you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened.

It is getting divorced and finding, on the same day, a girl, a woman, who touches your arm and says, “hi.” Six months later, you’re in love but, you’re wondering where you are and what happened. You’re grateful, excited and ready to move on but at the same time you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened, so that you’re not doomed to repeat your mistakes with the unicorn who touched your arm and said hello.

Hall, Light, Doctor

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

In the hall, where transitions take place. Shuffling from one idea to another. On my way to eat over there. On my way to shit over here. On my way to paint in the room next door. On my way to sleep in that room.

Always on my way to something but never appreciating the place in which I make the transitions. A cheap whore is the hallway, used to and fro without a thought or care. In the middle of my house but never the center of my attention.

The light in the hall has two switches, never pointing in the same direction. One is always up. One is always down. Neither ever looking in the same direction. One is off. One is on but the light always changes when one looks the opposite way.

Where do I go from here? The hallway leads to all areas of my home. Where I sleep. Where I eat. Where I shit. Where I shower. Where I work. Where I fuck. Where I watch TV. Where I stare at the painting and think about all the things of which I need to think.

I’m 34. I’ve been to the doctor more times than I wish. They don’t know shit but what you tell them. They are hallways, clueless unless you already have a direction in your mind. They speak with authority, are necessary evils but really don’t know anything unless you have an idea in your head.

So here’s to the hallways which we all traverse, mindlessly, thinking about what’s ahead, never thinking about the journey.