all the real things in life are invisible

all the real things in life are invisible:

love, spirit, joy, dreams;

real because they last forever and cannot be

destroyed by time and wear and tear.


they may change and convert into other forms:

hate, pain, despair, greed;

but they do not ever disappear—

they only shift:


not right before your eyes,

because to the mortal eye

they are unseen—

they can only be felt.


and this is why they are real.

this is why they last beyond mortality,

decay, corruption, passing away.

this is why we love tiny furniture:


concrete objects we can manipulate while

playing god; playthings that placate before

they break, disintegrate, fall into the earth,

get swallowed up by the energies.


we are spirits seeking spirits, wearing masks, boots,

threads, things that give us weight, things that make us

follow them, that make us tread softly and slowly

through water and sand, through this fluid wasteland.



the first few months are magic, are safe,

are exhilaratingly edged, are me showing you

my best held-together self. it’s not fake; i’m really

feeling it, really flying. but it’s not the whole


package. it’s as if a part of me—that

spiny slant of light—has split off and

soared—and you are the reason, and the

co-pilot, and the sunset, and the high.


the trick is in the sustain. all things must come 

to a bend; all things must eventually land.

but what a fucking ride.

what a fucking sunrise.


i would not go back and change a thing.

ok, maybe a few tiny things—

but only on my end. you were every

thing i needed at that time.


you were

every thing.

and for a moment,

so was i.



goldenrod 2
i was watching mad men while you were dying.
your last text is still in my phone, the one i
received while waiting at the bus stop under
october trees. i typed all of the texts onto golden-

rod paper, the kind you used to bring home
from the office, the color no one else wanted.
i wanted: the gloaming bursting right through my
skin; thin sheaves hanging about me like leaves.

i do regular drive-bys of these
places in my heart;
i do not want to forget them.
i do not want to forget them.

all of the griefs get balled up together
with all of the strongest loves, the truest
words, the deepest smells and
touches. they keep the heart beast

pumping. if i want to feel really bad,
push myself down to the depths i feel
i deserve, i will not think about you,
i will not write, i will not love—for days.

i know in the end it will all come crashing through:
the mad bull in search of—not the matador, not the
bright red flag—but the sad eyes of the child mis-
placed in the crowd, peering through shaking fingers.



i’m here.
i’m here in the heart of the city.
in the heart of pretenses.
calling you through this concrete window:

you just stepped out of the bath,
out of breath from the heat and the
stretching and the thoughts of wanting me
to see you even in the midst of your mess.

we’re both here. on this non-fiction line.
on this day of one lost hour. on this day
of the dead; of our continued living in
electricity and love and power and dread.

right before i stood up and
nailed it, all of it, right to the
tree and then sunk down on my knees
to worship her sanctity—

i sang you the words of my grandmother’s
story, and you told me of your father’s
eulogy, and our hearts pounded together
over the invisibly real sound waves.

the furnace that burns the day away

always running to catch up,

always running—


but it keeps bringing me back exactly here,

back to the lone source, back to the page,


back to the stunning realization that

this stage will never be enough; and yet


this frenzied circle is all i have.


i will always be reaching—

forward and backward—


trying to engulf and eclipse with

oval arms a giant shifting moon;


un able to


sit and

be still


(unless asleep:

hibernating, dream-


ing in ellipses—only to

wake: to what? to whom?)


even the lines

move in couplets:


stronger together than

on their own


(even stronger than the

stanza, while the one-line


widow puts on the bravest face).


i miss my couplet.


i miss the coming home to

something—to someone


putting dinner on, putting a

movie in, putting a mouth


on mine and moving

me into the


furnace that burns

the day away.


tj bday

the thought of you coming into this world
makes me smile. imagining the look on your
mother’s face as she gazed on you for the
first time is almost too much to take.

something amazing passed into the world that day:
it made people stop and turn and go out of their way
to hold, to touch, to be in that blanket of time
and openly yearn for a bigger blanket, more say.

all these years later, you are still making people
stop and listen and reach and want and love.
i feel honored to be a tiny part of that play; if all
the world’s a stage, you make it one hell of a show.

it’s not an easy space to fill; it’s difficult to face most days.
but you, just by being uniquely you, inspire us deep from the roots:
to show up, to fuck up, to get up, to laugh, to rock, to create,
to live, to love, to mock, to tell our story, to be real, to celebrate.

Thank you, Tommy, for being in the world.

Happy birthday with much love.

TJ pencil

Sketches of Tommy Joe Ratliff by Olivia Santiago

in the cracks between

to be both ethereal
and grounded—this

is the daily plight
and pleasure: to be

among the living, the
crawling, the feeling,

the dying—while still flying,
wings spread, head tilted

knowingly toward the un-
known. dreams are grown in the

cracks between: kicking up the dirt
of our warring-beautiful striving.