i think i missed you

we wake

to create;

 

we carry some-

thing from the

 

night: thick

on us, in us—

 

a thousand stories deep

as the crow flies.

 

we were meant

to meet there,

 

you and i—

but

 

i think i

missed you.

 

i think we are

living the before.

 

—or—

 

this is my body,

broken for you,

 

like in the

hereafter.

 

we are here

to make some-

 

thing new:

but we know

 

it has all been done

under the heavy static

 

of sun. we traverse the

taverns, ear to the ground

 

for a philistine,

a dervish,

 

something royal

to stir us up.

 

we become the swine

digging in the pearls;

 

it is our

communion.

 

we sit on the dock

and wait; we believe

 

something is on its

way—a ship, a revolution,

 

a stay; a drunken glacier

swaying toward us with glee:

 

to allay our fears, our need,

our repeat existence.

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dust has nothing to fear

i’m on a long journey, and

i don’t know the way.

 

the dust under my feet

has nothing to fear;

 

it’s been here before,

but it has a lot to say—

 

to the fingers, to the

rib-cage, to this feast, to

 

the miles walked across

this beach: once you are

 

thus reduced, you can only

transform into some thing

 

new—a diamond, a sand-

storm, a brilliant planet.

 

take every thing that is

happening, every thing you

 

feel, every thing you keep

silent, every thing you shout—

 

and kneel: turn it,

churn it into art.

 

it is the only way in,

and the only way out.

 

art

when you arrive at the perfect piece,

it sits in your mouth like a kiss,

 

a deliciousness you wish you could

hold onto forever. sometimes i

 

wait at the bus stop, and the big

whoosh lumbers up, and i wave

 

it away. i’m waiting, i say, but not

for the bus. for what, i cannot

 

articulate; but when it comes, it’s

like going back through the tunnel

 

and finding the seed from which

you sprang, and everything else

 

just falls away, and the song you sang

as a child rings like a bell in its wake.

 

sink hole

what happens when something

finally sinks in, comes in behind the

eyes, down into the head, through the

throat, into the deep seat of the body?

 

where does it land? does it take the ship down

with it? we volley these words back and forth, back

and forth, but at the end of the exchange, they are still

just words; it can take lifetimes to truly unpack them:

 

god, religion, truth, beauty, spirit, art, gender, love — to let them find a

home, a dark shifting breathing sink hole that is slowly unseating the world.

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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.

18/81

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

i thought it was all in my head (or, what is real?)

manet lilacs roses

these flowers glide off the canvas: white
lilacs, roses

reaching, wanting to be
pulled—

out of the vase, picked up out of the
frame

by their under-
arms

and swung ’round like a
child.

a thick outline once a
tree

holds them in
place,

like a
pause,

like the words saying
wait.

inside: a swirl-
storm

of quiet refrain and color-bent
lines

and memories of
soil.

when i wake from dreams, the
feel

of your mouth on mine, the wet
gaze

of your eyes down into
me,

the heat push-pull of your
hands

feels
real:

inside this
vase,

inside this last
stand,

these abstractions
boxing

me in, the rest
out.

 

Art: Vase of White Lilacs and Roses, by Edouard Manet

This is one of the last paintings created by Manet before his death in April of 1883.