shelf life.

I’m sitting, let’s say, at a coffeeshop. Soy latte nestled between my palms, my friend across the table, staring vaguely off as he ponders life. Abruptly, a stressful thought strikes and then lifts away. I clear my throat, ask my friend ‘say that again,’ and feel my body running through its fight-or-flight bullshit. What am I worried about? I search and search but can’t pinpoint it. I am, I realize, acutely aware of my heartbeat, of shrill machines, of the music saturating the scene.

A stressful thought, arriving and going, staining everything in its wake. It always takes a few minutes for the color to come in clear again, for the sounds to sync up with the images. The worry has a short shelf life, its usefulness even shorter.

This happened today, and I wondered if the stressful thought was you. I decided it wasn’t. I’m not sure I was right.

A person can have the same effect. Arriving suddenly and disappearing, messing up the color of everything for a while. It’s okay, the world will course-correct. Just keep breathing as your body debates whether you should tear shit up or run like hell.

What, exactly, am I supposed to do with this story?

In our last conversation together, you admit that you hate my need to ‘put everything out there.’ I’m sorry, I guess. I’ve always been this way, sharing my story as I’m discovering it. A friend once told me I plant a garden where my pain is, visiting and nurturing it and, eventually, sharing the fruit that grows from it. The analogy made my eyes well up.

I’m also not one to suffer in silence. My mom tells a story that, when circumcised, I cried in indignation until I tuckered myself out.

So, tender gardener or outraged infant, I am here with a story I do not understand how to sort. This will not, I know, live on to be one of my life’s great love stories. Neither was it horror, my predilection for hyperbole notwithstanding. It was human, I know, and it was predictable and messy and stupid and brave.

I study the shelf, wonder just where to shelve you. I promise I will soon start to tell the story without mentioning your name. These pages will yellow, collect dust.

I won’t etch a title into the binding.

I wake up feeling relieved. I run in the hotel parking lot, golden leaves skittering underfoot. The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go. Two autumns in a row, but now we’re in agreement. Peace knocks at the door, and I invite him in to stretch out and take a nap on the sofa.

I am a hundred miles from the city, and to be faraway yields hope. I will be hopeful for you, and faraway, and we will both write better stories for it.

There is anger, too. Time lost, tears shed, memories to set down and let loose. I don’t invite anger inside, just meet him at the door and encourage him onward. I’ve no need for his company; it has always only made me feel lonely.


‘I don’t know how else to say it,’ my friend tells me, stooped forward on my couch, ‘you haven’t really felt like yourself.’

My heart tangles into a knot against my sternum. I absorb what he’s saying, eyes down as I listen for an echo. I look up, meet his gaze. ‘I know.’

We’ve waded into these waters before, he and I. What is a friend if not somebody who will follow you where you’ve gotten yourself lost, who will say to you with unflinching sincerity, ‘this isn’t you’?

The strands of light beneath my loft form a makeshift maze, all of it glimmering over my napping cat. I take pride in this place, in the way its eclectic warmth mirrors my spirit. I find peace in the way my cat has abandoned all his anxiety, secure and relaxed as he grows up alongside me.

On my murkiest days, I scan for truths like these –– bits of evidence that I’m good, worth loving, regardless of the myriad ways I come up short.

I showed up to 2022 with faint traces of bruising, and I hoped I’d find a way to tell a better story than I managed to tell with 2021. Braver, I chided myself, and less apologetic.

Here in November, the calendar year’s eleventh hour, I’m not so sure I can say I was successful. Like any year, it brought its treasures and traumas, but I can’t help but feel like I watched the same fucking movie twice. I’m a writer, yes, and I’ve plagiarized my own work.

I exhale in the emptiness of my apartment, the finish line to a clobbering commute. ‘What have I learned?’ I ask myself, desperate to pinpoint the lesson. If I find it, I delude myself, then it wasn’t all for naught.

There are lessons, and I know what they are; I’ve learned most of them before. Trust your intuition. Believe what you see. Say what you mean. Forgive.

I refuse to concede time to regret. All around me, right now, are ticking clocks. People who’ve steadied my steps are monitoring their blood pressure, treating our conversations together like they may be the last. The train won’t slow, and I won’t spend the ride too preoccupied to notice the view.

Perhaps there are new lessons here, too. It’s okay to try and fail. Only lazy writers think all stories have to have bad guys. Keep what you want and let go of the rest.

My absolutes, a shortlist:

I tell stories like they live inside me and they are restless.
I get bored with people’s surfaces and mesmerized by their inner worlds.
If I love you, I will remember times with you in pristine, absurd detail.
I see into people almost immediately.
I am impatient, and I am remorseful about it. This is cyclical.
I really fucking like what I like.
I really fucking don’t like what I don’t like.
I am forgiving but not forgetful.
I don’t know how to stay angry for long.
I am not lonely when I am on my own.
It is very fucking hard for me to watch someone hurt.
Writing untangles the mess for me. Sometimes it’s the only way.
I feel tender for people who are perceived to be difficult.
When my gentleness backfires, I feel furious.
I struggle to believe anybody has really seen me.
I cultivate friendships with devotion, enthusiasm, and the deepest love.
My friends have rescued me, again and again and again.
I make playlists like they are love letters.
I am untidy and running late and you won’t wonder whether I love you.

sitting down to write a poem that is neither angry nor bruised.

second try, second try, i will
try, for the moment, to consider
the ways in which we are rinsed
by rains we didn’t ask for,
plans in sidewalk chalk ripple
down with our bloodstains

or i’ll write about the way my
voicemail box is full
because i’m afraid to delete any
messages because someday
i might need to hear my
mom say hello, casually,
no occasion but to say hello,
so i go on hoarding small love letters

even these, i admit, are stained a
bit indigo, my grief bleeding
into my gratitudes, all the
love and pain watercolor,
so i hush myself, whisper reminders
my poetry’s found its way back to
the light before, holds
lanterns, my poetry, for every gray bend


another sunday finds me unsettled,
time is a treadmill and i am
hopelessly out of rhythm,
steady my breaths and beg
my heartbeat to find me,
meet me where i’ve wandered

there are tally marks etched
into both sides of the scoreboard,
even the wins come at a
cost, the losses staining
my palms, purple grief,
a hundred debts to settle, broken
stories, walls abandoned halfway
through the paint

on the worst days my love
feels like an old pail with a
sprung leak, this heart and its
monstrous need, and who
can really see beyond what
they wanted, and when’s the
moment to say deal, i
can settle for this

the dust from the boys we were
settles on the edges we
forget to keep up with,
staining our fingertips gray,
smudging our best efforts,
drawing a line where we’ve
already drawn lines, and
our stories fall casualty to
the reckless blur

happy endings.

here we are, another
makeshift night, another haphazard
occasion, drinking something,
watching something, talking over
everything, and you tell me
there is something

and, as a boy, i never quite grasped it,
the power to soak up all a day’s fun
without losing myself to grief
that another sun set after all,
sobbing in my grandma’s arms
over no more bread for the ducks,
and she whispered, oh honey,
i know it

in that first year of college, i
felt time passing beneath my feet,
looked at the world around me and
felt it shifting, told my roommate
how fast it would all go, the people
we loved wouldn’t
always be here, and we
went to sleep to the sound of one another
crying from across the room

thirty-three, and my heart still shatters
at the end of every good thing,
hug you goodbye and sob on the couch,
and grief, to know it’s a shadow
left behind by yesterday’s wild joy
does not make it easy to hold,
but still my palms clasp onto it tightly,
grateful for the indigo ache,


promise i am pretty in the
right light, just tilt your head
westward and squint, do you
see it, do you, will you
keep your eyes on me
another ten seconds

if i’m honest, you’re a promise
i broke to myself, and
something new entirely, fresh
vines stretching over the
aching bones of yesterday,
blossoming in spite of
everything, everything
we lost in those rainless days

all the times i got it wrong
born from the fear i would
get it wrong, frozen in the
hopes the sharks would
get bored and go, razor cuts
against the walls of somebody
else’s world, and i promise
i’ll get things wrong
and i’ll do it by trying

for a monday.

set the heavy down, let the
sadness breathe for a weekend,
we don’t need to be
on those streets, i’d rather
wander ’round for the moment

leave it for a monday, watch it
sit and wait, ever present,
just tip the glass back, go on,
shake your ass fast, happy
you won’t shatter ’til you’re pausing

promises in pencil, crumpled paper
balls for the hallway, tear ’em
to confetti, no one sees you
ache when you’re laughing louder
than the karaoke replay

another shard of glass, swept ’em
but you know you missed one
somehow, and you know now,
deep down, you never need to
say you were right, when you’ve
already whispered it in your mind

just drink a breath down, let the silence
ground you in quiet, some feelings
come and go, and the real ones
know to stay in their waiting

monday post: things stack up.

My phone’s always pulling me back to pictures of my yesterdays. Two years ago, it reminds me, I was a lion-maned man watching the world from his windowsill. Four, much younger-looking and anxiously anticipating a move to the city. Six, madly in love with a man I didn’t yet know was packing his things. It’s a joy, the nostalgia, and it isn’t. Every old grief has kept its sharper edges somehow.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, keeping all these stories in this knapsack. I am, in some senses, a carrier of all my fallen selves. A keeper of all my failed romances, my broken pathways, my swollen wanting bruises. There are the happy memories, too, but I’ve long since learned that heartbreak and triumph usually inhabit the same room.

When I talk about the times my world has crumbled, my voice verges on breaking. I am fine, I know it, but the hurt still rises up, a tide in waiting. My eyes are saltwater, my hands oars shaking on the rippling surface.

Is this what it costs, I wonder, to be a storyteller? My arms and shoulders ache from the weight of all the tomes I’ve stowed along with me. But, oh, the spectrum of color I feel when I feel someone take a story of mine in their palms and hold it close.


Walk with me through the city and you’ll discover I’ve got a story on every street corner. I can’t help myself sometimes; I need you to know all the pages I’m carrying around with me. It’s an invitation, on my end, a welcome into a richly curated interior world.

I’m showing you the photos I’ve hung that make this life feel like home.

There’s the bar where my best friend lost his wallet, and the coffeeshop where I had the most ill-advised date. I used to go to this gym, and then to this bodega that used to serve smoothies. I used to run here in the mornings, I tell you, and I hope you realize it means my spirit was stitched back together along these pathways.

I’ll tell you some of them more than once, and some more yet. I’m sharing some meaning, some glimpse, and I’m aching for you to see it alongside me.


In a few ways, I am still the child that won’t hear ‘no’ without an explanation. I am the boy who hates when it’s time to head home from the park, heartbroken at the blistering grief that all good things end. I am the son who ignores his parents’ counsel that a Band-Aid won’t cure an earache, stretching the sticky edges across the borders of his ear.

And I am the thirteen-year-old who doesn’t know why his heart is picking up from the boy who just passed him in the hallway. An anxious early teen wearing the same three shirts in rotation because his body is comfortable in them. A high school Freshman finding no tears at the loss of his grandfather, until nights later, when everyone else is finally asleep.

I am the twenty-two year old falling in love with his best friend. I am the twenty-five year old shattering his own life and stubbornly finding his feet again. The man at twenty-seven, getting the word ‘BRAVE’ etched across his arm, reminding him to always try and do the brave thing.

All these selves are lost to time, perhaps, or maybe the people we become are cumulative. Maybe I am a walking, breathing village of younger selves. Maybe they coexist, in some way, in a stack or a circle, finding communion with one another and granting each other grace.


here i am, dad, it’s
another morning after, i’m
here in some world
without you in it, the
stories scattered in
a mess of polaroids
across the sun-worn rug

here i am, five or six,
my best tee-ball swing, can
hear your voice cheering
when i look this one over, and
there you are with the
lobster ice cream, eyes
bulging wide, a story you
kept right on telling
and telling

so many of these are
flowers, dad, and the
sun through tree branches,
and they might not seem
like stories, but we both
know that they are, the
quiet hum of good things,
i can just hear you singing

the sun carves a line
across the hardwood as
it drops, and i miss it,
the warmth of knowing
you’d never miss
anything, and i know
you’re not here, and every
story we wrote is its own
eternity i will carry around with
me, and here i am,
and here we are.

train home.

in case you were wondering,
the night i saw you i
rode the train home with my
shirt on inside-out
and the rest of me
was inside-out too

if i loved you, i’ll love you forever,
which is heavy and happy
in the same slap, and
i was drunk and sorrowful
slumped in an aged orange chair
wondered where we put all
the love when somebody
moves without leaving
a forwarding address

a woman beside me wrote a
note in her cellphone: i’m not lisa,
the importance of being myself,
and i thought there are stories
everywhere, and sometimes it’s
so much to carry, and she looks
a bit like a lisa, and

i considered the woman at the
coffeeshop, scraping a scratch-off
lottery ticket with the child
she is paid to take care of,
and does she know she is
teaching him something about
luck, and why does it all
make me ache and exhale?