how far will I fall

I’m staring out across the way
Into a fog I knew would be but I cannot contain
As I prepare to leave this place
My head is filled with thoughts of you are not here I am hopeful all the same

I’m edging closer to it all
These rays of sun are not the same I’ve never seen this light before
The glass is flowing toward the floor
A fluid form reminder of the changing I will not see when I’m gone

Hey, how far will I fall today
Hey, hey, how far must I fall today to day-to-day to day-to-day

My heart is still the hole it was before you and remains because
I will not deny the Love that’s waiting for the moment I let go
Of all the sense I’ve tried to make this flailing grasp into the darkness
To hold on to this in spite of all I’ve lost along the way

Hey, how far will I fall today
Hey, hey, how far must I fall today to day-to-day to day-to-day

My ears are ringing from the call
I am still here waiting but I will not see you anymore
I throw the phone into the hall
(Somehow) I started out so far ahead you’re leaving me behind how did this all

Hey, how far will I fall today
Hey, hey, how far must I fall today to day-to-day to day-to-day

~AF

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(super)hero #2

The light from the hallway pours through the opened door, chasing the shadows of softer light into the darkness cast by fluorescence. Nurse Roberta steps lightly into the room and crosses to the IV pump to check the vitals of the boy sleeping in the single bed behind the curtain. Her soles squeak as she walks toward the door. She halts the rhythm of her exit, turns her head to the side, and speaks into the darkness.

“He stayed up as long as he could, waiting for you.”

The darkness didn’t answer, but she thought she saw a figure seated in the far chair out of the corner of her eye. Her vision wouldn’t adjust for the light, but she could see the puddle of rain that had run off of him and found its way out onto the floor where she’d walked.

“Don’t wake him, okay? He knows when you’ve been here.”

Roberta waited for the words to soak the silence that hung the three of them. Knowing the absence of rejection is not the same as affirmation, choosing to accept the stillness as such, regardless.

She never figured how he still reached through the window at thirty floors, or how the boy always seemed to sense he was coming. Fighting medication and sickness to stave off sleep, losing every time.

She pulled the door closed and resumed her round, twisting her feet to hear the rubber echo in the corridor. A secret she and the linoleum would keep with the man who kept watch over a dying boy, and listened for the sound of her as she walked away.

Entropy

July 24, 2017

(took me a while to chew on this one, sorry.)

entropy n., The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.

Dr. King said that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. I agree. Some feel, especially in our current political climate, this notion is idealistic. Perhaps even naive. Forgetting for the moment the visible, active, and coordinated violence against the movement by the state of that time. Pretending for the moment that we do not naturalize tens of thousands of foreign nationals every year, making them United States citizens, subject to the full rights and protection of our Constitution. Ignoring for the moment that, given the status quo, in just three and one half years (not counting mid-terms) we must only change the minds of less than eighty thousand people total, across three states, to turn the most powerful office in our country over to a whole other person, with a whole other family. Setting all of that and universal suffrage aside, imagine King was wrong.

We may argue for the existence of and the rules governing all manner of derivative Creations, but they are all subordinate to at least one. A moral universe, a political universe, any categorical margin we create, is first bound by the physical universe in which we live. And while I, as Dr. King, am a person of faith, I disqualify contrary arguments from positions and promises of faith for one reason: the hereafter has yet to strike an empirical balance with the world in which we live and observe. Whether a Creator exists, this physical universe is our absolute proving ground.

A moral universe only ever bends in a direction commensurate with the will of its attendants. That’s us. And though we may interfere with the physical universe, its arc bends toward a singular, immutable, inexorable conclusion. Entropy. All of the stars are going to burn out, the planets will harden and cold, nuclear reaction will slow and eventually cease, nothing but the ice and darkness of deep space for as far as the eye, organic or mechanical, could possibly dream of seeing. This is our future.

There are some who point to our fate and the seeming insignificance of our role in the cosmos as reason for nihilism, a denial of existence. I disagree. John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote:

“What’s true of us is true of nature. If we are conscious, as our species seems to have become, then nature is conscious. Nature became conscious in us, perhaps in order to observe itself…Whatever the reason, that thing out there, with the black holes and the nebulae and whatnot, is conscious.”

Whether you believe or not in a preexisting purpose for being, it is impossible to dismiss our intrinsic and natural reasons for being.

We seek to make our own order from nature. We build yurts and skyscrapers, roads and dams. We seek out the other side of oceans. We try and bend other people to our will; at times willing to sacrifice freedom for dystopian visions of peace. Our spirit for conquest is only very recently undergoing a renaissance of mitigation. I argue this welcome change is the result of having driven the pendulum too far. We crave balance, even though our selfishness shields us at times from seeing our ultimate goal, the forest for the trees. The point is that human beings crave a vision of order that flies in the face of the natural conclusion. The purpose of life is to end. Still, humanity flails to grasp a substantive rejection of the natural order: What does this mean?

What does it mean that we simply will not stop trying to organize our world amidst its inevitable decline? I say organize in the sense that we make and remake systems according to our own ideas of order and purpose. There is a lot of noise being made over our destructive streak when it comes to nature. We are unquestionably mired in generations worth of abuse of our ecosystems and climate. Reasonable people agree with the science that supports the notion of our having crossed the line of environmental sustainability. Though I cannot help but wonder at the difference (in principle) between where we are now as opposed to when we first fashioned tools and began a new level of decimation of the local animal food source. What about the first agriculture? These are not different in principle, only different in scale, compared with our crises today. The fact we have come to recognize our capacity for damage and seek to remedy our mistake is not a rejection of this ordering principle but a more fully developed version of this essential aspect of who we are as a species.

Reordering nature according to our own vision, toward our own purpose, is the chief separation between our minds and the rest of the animal kingdom. Tools, agriculture, energy, are all expressions of this notion. Clean power and sustainable agribusiness are refined iterations of efforts that may yet scorch the Earth. It matters that we’re learning. We were always going to learn, it was only ever a question of how much it was going to cost us.

It is easy to look only at the dissonance in our society and claim the sky is falling. It is lazy to state that the global quality of life statistics are on the upswing and pretend there isn’t work to be done. Each of us must balance the anxiety we feel over the tempest with our innate capacity to order and navigate this ship we’re in. Take a deep breath, step back, and consider a much broader perspective. We survive on such a narrow margin in the cosmos. We thrive on rearrangement of tumult, one after the other. (Why do you think Candy Crush is so hopelessly addictive?) Our species thrives in rejection of cosmic principle, astronomical insignificance, and inexorable failure. How small then it is turn around and be conscious?

Be deliberate. It is in fact your whole reason to exist. That you are alive and wandering about is just one of billions of notes sounding in the relative emptiness of our neighborhood. If you do nothing but stare at the ground and shuffle along, your life is static. White noise. Turn up and choose your tone as an alternative and you get to resolve the clamor around you. Even if you can only wrangle yourself in tune. Everyone begins somewhere. Why not here?

I recognize this may seem abstract and complicated, vague. If only because it’s difficult to prescribe independent of a specific cause. In fact: “Do something (anything), as long as it’s on purpose.” may do very little to rally the masses to action. But hey, the world is ending. The whole universe, actually. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But if there’s one thing humanity has always done well, it is to ignore this fact and aspire toward something greater and exceeding our grasp entirely. Why not you?

~AF

August 9, 2017

A couple of weeks ago there was an incident in the education unit. A fight broke out, a staff was assaulted, the unit got locked down. They shake us down (locked in, full cell search, etc.) every six months, at least they’re supposed to, every six months anyway. So they hit those guys with their routine lockdown while they had them in already. Almost two full weeks. This past weekend those guys got into it again. This time, around seventy guys just kicked it off, right on flag.

Don’t gasp too harshly. When squad showed up most of those guys switched in quick. The riot gear wasn’t even off the shelf before the whole thing was over and done with. They locked down the whole prison for the weekend. I hear we even made the news.

Incarceration creates a subculture. We are a permanent underclass in American society. Most of you see us as a monolith. Even recent efforts in our favor to address the prison population by culling nonviolent drug and property offenders as the faceplate for a reduction in prison population misidentifies the nature of which societal problems prisons represent, house, or are meant to remedy.

It is commonplace in our culture to bemoan feeling trapped by a dead-end job, an abusive relationship, a loveless marriage, a mortgage, or an economic class. We say these things because our default psychological condition is the presumption of our freedom. This is so ingrained that even the perception of our freedom being infringed upon raises our hackles to rally and cry out.

To be imprisoned, at all, is the punishment. Incarceration is itself the lash, exile, and excommunication.

The matter is what you do with a person post-expulsion. Especially when you know this person will return. The education unit is secretly a dead end for many. There are economic, psychological, and cultural reasons a man reaches eighteen without finishing high school. Dumping them in a GED program behind bars without treating these reasons is setting many of them up to fail. To be clear, this is not an indictment of the education staff, or the GED. I want you to be able to understand what is happening in prison, why it’s wrong, and how it’s going to cost you if we can’t fix it.

You come in with nothing, assume you don’t have a rich family to support you financially. In Education you make a fixed wage. It isn’t even enough to pay for your hygiene on canteen, but it does mean that you no longer qualify for Indigent status. You won’t starve for the meals are provided, but you can’t afford to brush or bathe properly.

Most everyone in the unit faces the same plight, trying to work a hustle to get by, except the takers in the world are takers in here too. Violence is part and parcel to getting by, keeping what you have, to say nothing of your dignity. You would love to leave this unit and get a job elsewhere in the prison, but you need your GED before DOC will let you move. This seems like a logical stick to motivate offenders, but it amounts to a revolving door within the prison. The riff raff know no matter what they do, they’ll be back in this unit eventually, same pay, same racket.

If you’re young this all becomes a game to you. Why do you think they call it The Game, after all? Run in on the vulnerable because they have what I want? – part of the game. Set up an arbitrary clique to motivate territorial violence for the reward of tens of dollars? -part of the game. Send it up on flag with seventy other cats because there are no real consequences for wild’n out? -part of the game. Ignore my education because nobody gives a fuck about me so why should I? -part of the game.

The plight of young men who committed crimes and are being largely ignored for their financial distress, lack of social skills, learning impairments, and myriad mental health issues (see: reasons for committing crimes in the first place), may not immediately trigger your sense of compassion. That’s okay. Many of you have been conditioned to believe that whatever a person gets when they come to prison, they deserve. Okay. That can be your default setting. You may also be forgiven for your disregard for the millions of taxpayer dollars it costs to house these guys just to bang their heads against the wall (and each other). Accountability of government spending may not be your concern. But…

These guys are all getting out. There are a handful of brand new life sentences, literally, less than five in a unit of almost three hundred; the rest are all coming right back into your community. That revolving door of justice is kicking these guys out with the benefit of the above instruction in how to live and operate in this world. In your world. In our world.

I don’t write this to scare you. These are true things that happen to be scary. People see a riot or a lockdown on TV and think it happened in here, but that’s not entirely accurate. My house is your house too. All of these guys are coming home to live in your streets.

I happened to arrive in a place where I believe these lives have value for the sake of themselves. Not everyone believes what I believe, but then my beliefs do not require them to. At the very least I hope to encourage the skeptical minds to embrace the reality that improving conditions for the worst off actually improves the probability of success for everyone. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

~AF

There is Always a Next Time

July 21, 2017

I am bent over at the waist, undoing the tight laces of the grubby-white New Balance trainers I wear to work out. The sweat gathered at the hair of my temples escapes in rivulets through the scrub of my unshaven face. The door to my cell is three quarters open. I am too exhausted to secure my padlock after an aggressive morning workout.

A shadow flutters in the sunlight where I am standing. My right foot shoots out behind me, into my cell, ripping the laces away from my fingers and planting my balance to shift away from the impending contact.

I feel the wind of the makeshift cudgel passing my face before it smashes into the concrete floor inside my cell. Thirteen inches of broken broom handle, half a dozen rusted D-Cell batteries, strips of state-issue sheets and brown packing tape, scatter into the space behind me, shattered by the force of the intended blow. Where did they find D-Cells?

The world slows.

I look up to see my assailant bathed in light. His own shadow obscures his face, but not his fear. I do not fight unless I need to. This man has made violence necessary. I am not angry for his assault. I am angry for what I now must do to protect myself. Not from this attack, from the next.

He is off balance from the miss. I grab the wrist of his open hand and twist back toward the bars. He cries out and falls into the door, sliding open until it bangs into the frame, breaking the relative silence of the unit. I grab the front of his shirt and pull him off the galley and into my cell.

My bed is a steel frame jutting from the wall. He hits his head before squirming loose, trying to scramble under and away from me. The squeak of sneakers on the painted floor sound like sports in a gym to anyone who’s never heard a fight in this prison. I’m on my knees, alternating punches and clutches, trying to drag the animal from under my bed so I can hurt it.

He’s wiry, with a long reach, holding me at bay. When he spins his legs to kick at me I catch him by the front of his jeans. Once his body slides it’s over with. There’s nothing but floor to hold on to. I get him out far enough to kneel him in place and stun him. I hit him hard, twice before he goes fuzzy and stops struggling. I pull him out and go to work.

For a moment I stop to think. I’ve worked hard to get myself to a good place. I’ve got some things going for me. People don’t see me the way they saw me after I came in. I think about the good job and the easy mornings. The man beneath me sputters and I remember he would not have stopped. And I might not be so lucky next time. Unless there is no next time.

I pick up the ancient batteries rolled against the wall, one for each hand. I measure out the rhythm in my head and start a slow count. I hear the heavy slap of my weighted hands keeping time, well before my eyes register what I’m doing. Left. Right. Left. Right. One. Two. Three. Four. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

My guys do not penetrate the fugue when they rush me to pull me off him. One of them drags the unconscious body back to his cell. Another collects the batteries and wood from the floor. Another stands me at my sink and washes my hands. My fingers hurt from clenching D-Cells. My shoulders cramp. I stare at a basin filled with cloudy pink water because the drain is bad. I wonder how long his blood will be in my sink.

They take my shirt and walk me down to the showers so they can mop up my floor without having four guys at my cell. About halfway down the stairs I snap out of it and ask them is he dead. Nobody talks. We just shuffle down the tier.

~AF

Road to Brave

July 17, 2017

Wouldn’t turn away/
Not for all you’ve got for sale/
Pardon me I’ve got to say/
Wouldn’t you prefer to leave your dignity complete, for all I’ve seen it seems to me it might be weighing heavy on you/

I’ve got a road to brave/
I keep breaking and re-breaking your heart/
I got a way that I might finally see things through/
Alone/

Cull a sacred flower/
Reap from all you’ve ever sown/
Couldn’t name the hour/
Wouldn’t you prefer to lay a delicate refrain and save the words we say for Love from weighing heavy on you/

I got a road to brave/
I keep breaking and re-breaking your heart/
I got a way that I might finally see things through/
Alone/

I am sure that I am/
Farthest from your mind/
I am warning I am/
Not that hard to find/
On the morning when I’ve come/

I got a road to brave/
I keep breaking and un-breaking your heart/
I got a way that I might finally see things through/
Alone/

Between you and me I don’t feel like this is something I can let go/
Between you and me I don’t feel like this is something I can let go/
Between you and me I don’t feel like this is something I should let go/
Between you and me I don’t feel like this is something I should let go/

~AF

(super)hero #1

June 24, 2017

From this height you could look down at the city and see anything you wanted. The blanket of night covered well beyond the western horizon, but it still felt early.

Most of the noise amidst the skyscrapers from the streets below was still being made by families, early dates, late stragglers working their way home after long days at the office. The criminal element didn’t emerge until late. Later, it seemed, than it used to. When it emerged at all.

A figure draped in black perched on the edge of the maintenance deck for the antenna cluster. A peak of sorts, in a skyline of blinking peaks. Gusts of wind summoned their way up to engulf the folds of his cape and billow it out into a black flag. He cocked his head, listening intently for a sound that wasn’t there. Nothing rose above the whistles and howls swirling around him. There were no sirens wailing in the distance. No cries for help in the crackling echo of the earpiece in his cowl. There were no crises, no distress for his concern.

“Shit.”

He stood, shaking his head, and scanned the hundreds of feet below him. He leaned into a hot vent blasting up from the street. He hung for a moment, above the chasm, and fell.

~AF

Life Jazz

July 6, 2017

dissonance (dis’e-nens) n. 1. A harsh, disagreeable combination of sounds; discord. 2. Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict. 3. Music. A combination of tones contextually considered to suggest unrelieved tension and require resolution.

I am not a Jazz guy. Where dissonance ranks in the hierarchy of device. I love Jazz, it is simply not my ‘go to’ genre. Not in music anyway. As a songwriter I am happiest when I land in a pop-ish neo-soul/folk/Americana territory. I write cleanly in the pocket, rely on lyric to drive the substance of my work, and use the music behind the melody to provide familiar foundation for a broad audience. At least I try. When it comes to people, especially in creative collaboration, the jazz man cometh.

Introduction. Rhythm of exchange, cadence. You sit here and I will…stand, no, sit, over here. Will you lead or will I. I prefer to defer and get a sense of what you bring to the table. The hi-hat counts us in and we’re off.

Melody. Beat the scrub to find the path. Is it straight or does it meander, is it both? Guided meditation toward discovery. I knock gently from stage left to wonder aloud where we’re headed. Wasn’t there a left turn at Albuquerque? No, no, you drive. I’m just asking for the sake of axing.

Thumping rhythm and the clack-clack of hands furious, meeting the soft-worn wood of the bass. There is a foundation for what we do. In every meeting where men and women of purpose gather there is an ode to be found. Notes to be played. A song.

No two artists every play the same. Even when you bring the same players back to the stage, they aren’t beginning anew. They resume their masterwork, take up the bars again. A coda to the music of lives intertwined. Improvisational by design. Intentional by nature.

We dance without knowing how the next bar might turn. Snatching away at the next set of black ovals that translate toward meaning. Symbols for words made of symbols for sounds made of symbols for feeling. Writing the railway as we barrel down the tracks. Frenzied for knowing the next slip could foul the whole measure.

Many are listeners. The world needs music lovers. Though if you are able you ought to take up your instrument and learn to play. When the music of the world goes unwritten, when the craft of lives intertwined goes unsung, everybody everywhere shines a little less brightly for the loss. And the players on stage grow a little more weary.

I do not apologize for my insistence that every moment then is fraught with meaning. Only that in my hurry to discover the next phrase I can overlook the layabouts. And in my sometimes hunger for complement I see adept where there is only aficionado with potential. But I have learned to slow the tempo to grow the base. And let the music find me instead of the other way around. And at the end of it all just play.

~AF

Tolerate

June 28, 2017

I came to the secured unit door after work. All of Industry and Education had already switched back in, per usual. OFC Brown was assigned to the door. He unlocked it and let me in.

AF: What’s up, Brown?

B: What’s goin’ on, Fait?

AF: Same old, man. You all right?

B: Yeah. Hold up though, I got to pat you down?

AF: What? You’re kidding right?

B: Nah, man. LT says that when y’all are comin’ back from Industry we’re on the number system, but everybody comin’ back on a pass has to get a pat search.

AF: But I’m not comin’ back from a pass, I’m comin’ back from work.

B: Oh yeah, what’s your pass say?

AF: I don’t have a pass.

B: Oh, really? Where are you comin from that you don’t have a pass.

AF: Chapel.

B: Right. You see these new cameras they just put in? (gestures above the door) They ain’t here to watch you. They here to watch me. All that warden does all day is sit up in his office watching the cameras to make sure I do what he tells me. I used to stand out in the hallway, but LT says this is [my] unit, I gotta do em inside the door.

(blue nitrile gloves are on. the discussion portion of the search is over with. a guard is like a referee, or your boss; they aren’t always right, but they’re never wrong. winning the argument can only make things worse.)

A standard pat search is something like the TSA search, depending on who does it. The problem with Brown is that he’s an aggressive search. And it wasn’t but a couple of weeks ago that he stopped me in Corridor to search me because I ‘looked suspicious’. I know you can’t see me, or know how I move. I might be the least suspicious looking guy around here.

(hands at my shoulders, working down my arms as though testing whether my muscle is ripe, pressed along my torso, front and back, smoothing my state issue T-shirt for a wrinkle that isn’t there)

There was a blonde guard in my last unit. She played similar games, but I knew where she was coming from. She was right in the middle of the pat-down-aggression-spectrum. And she never pulled me over just to paw at me.

(around my waist, pulling the pockets of my sansabelt denim away from my body to check if I am stupid enough to smuggle in my pockets, allowable contact on my thighs begins just outside my bathing suit area, if my bathing suit is a European-cut trunk short.)

AF: No, I work in the chapel. “Chapel Worker” is my job. I don’t have a pass because I’m returning from work.

B: Oh. Well…you have a nice day, Fait.

Getting felt up on a (supposedly) random and regular basis is part of this life. No less an invasion for its necessity, but you grow accustomed to it. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to feel violated by routine. That’s why Brown’s conduct is red flag. There are a handful of reasons to single me out. A couple of which I might have even encouraged in blonde guard. But Brown isn’t really my type. So, he’s trying to be funny, thinks I’m actually on one, maybe he has a thing for me, or maybe he’s just trying to cover his own ass by lingering too close to mine. I could ask him a thousand different ways and never get a straight answer.

So it’s another piece of routine. Ask the questions you can’t answer. Tolerate the uncertainty. Pay attention to the Browns of this world and be prepared for every one of the possible answers to be the actual answer. And otherwise let things go.

~AF

P.S. ~ (June 29, 2017) So, obviously, Brown’s name isn’t really Brown. But when I passed him today and called him “Brown” he looked genuinely hurt, thinking I forgot his name. And it isn’t like I can explain I’ve been writing about his behavior out in the world…I feel real smart right now.

Into Darkness

June 26, 2017

The power goes out. A surge of noise brimming bedlam rises from the galley. Through the vents and the vibration of the walls and the floor I can hear the entire prison plunged into darkness.

The gravity leaves my feet and my possessions float just above their recent surfaces. The world begins to roll. The building becomes a tumbler in motion. All of us so much soft tissue to be ground away as polish for the stones we were mined for.

My brain maintains the true Earth is beneath my feet. But the bars point beneath and away from me, as though I am being dumped out of my cage and into the windows across from my cell.

The hundred year steel of my door groans in a death knell. Warping in on itself blows out the anchors from the concrete arch. Explosions in miniature send flecks of stone and grit in every direction as the crumpled gate floats out into the air.

The prison was not meant to tumble. The unseen seams of construction reveal themselves under the shifts and heaves of the block unaccustomed to weightlessness.

I push against the back wall and launch myself across the crumbling threshold, in the direction of an opening seam in the ceiling. The collapse around me feels like thunder and sounds like a freight train, the way a freight train sounds like a tornado.

Floating in the air, in the Nothing. Not so much resurrected as emergent. In the moment I know I am dreaming. Only the waking world feels ethereal. And I can’t quite remember where I came from, where I’m going, or why.

Of the gates that lead toward home, one of horn and one of ivory, bad and good, the mistake was to believe that it mattered which one you chose. Underneath the artifice of matter they were always made of the same stuff, and mostly space.

The choice is just a decoration. A bauble for the guileless. What better way to toy with fate, than darkened choose the ivory gate?

Though I am told that we didn’t come here to make the choice. But to understand why we’ve made it.

~AF