WRITING FOR GHOSTS by D.L.McHale


ghosts

It is 4 a.m. and once again I am planted before the keyboard attempting to craft words into clever sentences…and there you go, failure in the first keystrokes. The good news, based upon my dearth of hits on WordPress, is that no one will read this anyway.

I once envisioned myself a budding writer, but now I am thoroughly convinced that feeling was nothing more than insomnia in the early morning hours combined with a pot of cheap coffee flushing out last night’s indigestion (don’t worry, that’s as graphic as I am capable of writing!)

I know I could be a good writer, if it wasn’t for all that grammar and words and things. But who am I kidding? It’s all about the words…the fucking words! (Hey, I used “dearth” in my second sentence…doesn’t that count for anything?) Well, I don’t have words or ideas or pesky plots, but what I do have is way too much time on my hands, so here you go.

When I write, I don’t have a particular audience in mind. Well, sort of, I guess…I have the ghosts of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hemingway, and Plath. Sweet Sylvia Plath. Lots of dead people who, while not necessarily helpful critics, at least show up in my head and watch the circus of confusion unfold. Sometimes I can hear the occasional clicking of the tongue, a sure sign to lay on the backspace and come at a line from a new direction. Or maybe the clicking is the melting cubes in Ernest’s posthumous cocktail. The revolver of his pistol being locked into place? Who knows? The point is, I’m often guided by the whispers of spirits.

It feels as though when I write it has less to do with me having something to say than something that has to be said having me to write it. (Wow, I just plagiarized myself..that last line was something I wrote a year ago!) But it’s true, nonetheless. I often find that it is sufficient for me to just press the keys, and somehow the story will tell itself. Don’t believe me? I just wrote everything above without a thought in my head.

The key to being a great writer, I’m convinced, is to be a great reader. There is nothing I can say now, or will ever write, that hasn’t been said or written before. But a studious reader understands that there are a million ways to say the same thing, and that’s the beauty, and salvation, of writing. You don’t have to be original. You just have to have a unique dialect. In my case, it also helps to have a really poor opinion of most of today’s writing. I continually lie to myself and say, “I can do better!” And sometimes…I do. Then I pull down a worn copy of Pushkin and think, “shit..fuck this!! I can’t write!” And again, I am right.

So I continue my early morning ritual and if it’s true what they say, that if you give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters, in a thousand years, one of them will bang out the complete works of William Shakespeare, then surely, if this continues for a thousand mornings, I can bang out something worth reading.

The Insidiousness of Life


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The insidiousness of life is that it constantly presses upon you;
it is unrelenting in its demands that you nurture and refine it.
It evolves, with or without your consent, so there is no rest,
to simply put it on cruise control and enjoy the passing of time.
For me, every breath is a nuisance; every step is a cursed journey
saddled with failed expectations and societal derision.

I never belonged to this world, nor has it offered itself to me,
and the contempt with which I hold its false promises
eats at my guts like ravens nibbling away at my meaning.
Where others are guided by the soft-bent wings of angels,
I am weighed down by the relentless nagging of demons;
wicked little imps who mock my waking hours and torment my sleep.

There is not a grave dug deep enough to bury my sorrows,
nor do I seek any forgiveness for my sorry state.
I will wash away the stench of my miserable existence
with endless cups of liquid absolution, and in my drunken state,
I will stumble through somehow.

Tomorrow’s sunrise may warmly embrace the multitudes;
each with their cheerful dispositions and infernal optimism.
I, on the other hand, will wither beneath the heat,
thirsting constantly for the darkness beneath a waning moon,
for it is in darkness that my soul finds its true voice.

Last Call


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Last night, as I lay muddled,
in my whiskey-soaked slumber,
A wraith-like mist appeared;
blue-black and musty scented
in tattered rags dipped in dust.

My burning sleep-clenched eyes
could not squeeze the scepter gone.
Her orbs, two onyx stones
set above translucent cheeks;
her mouth, a gaping maw
spewing ruby-red flames.
She floated on an icy breeze
scented with blood and bitters.

“Last call!” she hissed,

pouring me two bony fingers
of amber absolution,
judgment oozing from
her snake-coiled tongue.
I listened to the familiar tinkle
of liquefied reasoning cascading
across ice-cubed rebuttals.

Fear terrorized me,
stroking my belly with cold hands.
My gut curveting far and high
like smoke-flecked stallions
raking the coal black sky
with their steel-sparked shoes.

the earth reached up
with vise-gripped soiled fingers
grasping my naked ankles
and pulled down my saturated bones;
my drunken soul laid out and set
beneath lichen-laced granite.

Jagged stone-edged knives etched
my name and this,
the year of my drunken descent.

Self-Reflection


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I am the ripe green apple,
plucked from Eden’s garden
Contemptuously bitten,
no hope for God’s pardon.
I am Achilles heel
that hobbles my stride;
Odysseus’ curse,
my insufferable pride..
That lock of hair
claiming Sampson’s life,
And the brother of Able,
I’m Cain with a knife!
I am the snakes coiled
in Medusa’s dark mane –
Like a lance to the boil,
my mercy is strained.
I’m the brew in the cauldron
of deep-forested witches –
The ugliness that comes
from Frankenstein’s stitches.
I am alone and afraid,
but too stubborn to change;
Hopeless and lost
and most certain deranged!
I’m broken, defeated,
and reeking of sin,
The lowest of cowards,
the most evil of men.
A life, ever wasted
on cheap wine and women,
My descent into Death
is just now beginning.
This ghost will remain
as my specter of shame –
I’d rather be dead
than live more of the same ~

 

I Bark, Therefore, I Am


Lord Byron enjoying his "after-vet" time alone.
Lord Byron enjoying his “after-vet” time alone.

I’m not going to yank your leash – it’s been a busy month. A few weeks ago, my humans took me into the scary place with the man in the white coat. You know the place. It’s where everyone gathers around me as I lay on a cold. steel table and they poke and prod. Seems I had something called cancer and my human’s seemed really, really worried and sad. It couldn’t be all that bad, I thought, as the treats seemed to triple recently… but before I could whimper, “let’s get out of this place”, they left me and went away.

Now, I know I’m a brave boy…at least that’s what they told me as they left. But I certainly didn’t feel brave as the man in the white coat took me into the back room and put me into a deep sleep.

I dreamt of all the eight, wonderful, play-packed years I had spent with my humans. I must have chased ten thousand bouncy things in the park, and they always bought me squeaky things to keep me occupied as they went to work each day. I dreamt of the day they rescued me. I had been kept in a breeders cage since birth, and when I was freed, I had seizures brought on by the new flood of attention and love. But as they said, I’m a brave boy, and I was so happy when they took me home to share their kennel with me. Over the next 8 years, I learned to play and cuddle and found my utmost joy in the little humans that would pet me, cooing, “Oooh..he’s so soft!”

I confess, nothing was as much fun as Christmas at my human’s owners house in Grass Valley when I get my new toys and treats! Didn’t much care for the firecracker day each July, but I found my comfort behind Mama’s legs. Oh, how I dreamed some big dog dreams.

When I woke up, the scary man in the white coat was smiling, and there were my humans!! They had come back (as they always do). My tail thumped as I could see how joyful and happy they were! “I got it all,” beamed the white coated man. “It’s was a low grade cancer and I’d be surprised if it comes back,” he said. I don’t know what all the fuss was about, but my humans were no longer sad, and that was all that mattered to me. I’ve got a lot of living, chasing, and loving to do still yet.

As I left the room, I looked back at the white-coated man and gave a little bark. He wasn’t so scary after all, and I felt I owed him a bark of thanks.

 

Lights


alone_in_the_dark
You have always stood
beneath a dazzling array of bright colors
Brilliant, and brave, and blinding
Your light provided bright reflections
and lit the stage upon which you danced
careless, joyful, and exuberant

It was a separate light that bathed me
not quite so radiant
and full of shadows
It has never illuminated my way
nor has it warmed me in its beam
It was what it seemed
an insignificant blue glow, dim and misleading

In your light, you were found
In mine, everything was lost

 

Writer’s Block


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Half smoked cigarettes fill the vapid air
the poet hunches over in total disrepair
His dalliance with the muse is such a sad affair
When words won’t come, he slouches in despair
The night mist lingers though he doesn’t’ really care

Surrounded by empty bottles, his vision is impaired
The empty page taunts him, “Fill me if you dare!”
He reaches even deeper, but there’s really nothing there
Another evening of this is more than he can bear
In absolute surrender, his pen flies through the air

Best in Morning


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I love you best in morning…

In that quiet hour
before the sun fully rises
and the shadows of the night
linger possessively;
as I lie motionless
beside you
watching
the seductive blush
of a new dawn
filtering slowly through
the frosted windowpane,
caressing you in those last
moments of sleep
with warm fingers of light.

It is in that
special time,
that magic time of morning
as I, too, caress you
with my eyes
and with my thoughts
that I love you
best

 

Writer’s Block


block

 

Half smoked cigarettes fill the vapid air
the poet hunches over in total disrepair
His dalliance with the muse is such a sad affair
When words won’t come, he slouches in despair
The night mist lingers though he doesn’t’ really care
Surrounded by empty bottles, his vision is impaired
The empty page taunts him, “Fill me if you dare!”
He reaches even deeper, but there’s really nothing there
Another evening of this is more than he can bear
In absolute surrender, his pen flies through the air

 

Fallen Angel


tear

He writes for a fallen angel
but the rhymes don’t appear,
not in words, but in stilted

verse, in outpourings of
watered down love. She spreads
her wings and hunts the night.

What the poet will not write is,
You hunger for your father’s love;
It never was, but may you find

through the spilling of my ink
Some noble affection upon
which to rest. But I cannot touch

your pain. He drinks a toast
to the memory of her beauty.
No one wants her faded

charms this night. She stands
beneath a waning moon

with a single tear, a cigarette
from her too red un-kissed lips.
The cars no longer slow

down to guess her meaning.
She traces a vein
to where the needles brought

peace a million times.
I hear your poem, thank you
but I must be home to
where the razor whispers.

The Poet and His Prostitutes


whore

He was a lover of street prostitutes;
not the sable-wrapped uptown girls
who sold their tight-toned wares retail,
but rather those working-class girls
perfumed by the sweat of their labors;
standing beneath broken streetlights at 2 a.m.,
in cheap, colorful makeup and Wal-mart lingerie,
with asses bubbling back and flaccid breasts;
those colorful painted whores of the night.
In his youth, he had been scorched by the beautiful
and he would never again have the fevered yearning
of lying with flesh more pliant and comely.
Street-walkers fed his pathos and filled his inner void.
They would let him kiss them on the mouth,
and wouldn’t complain when he couldn’t get hard
because of too much beer and whiskey.
They’d always wait patiently, filing their nails
and filling the silence with meaning-less chatter.
If he couldn’t function, they didn’t condemn him,
but would play with themselves upon request
so at least the failing of the hour felt sexy.
Most of all, they didn’t lie.
They wouldn’t tell him what a great lover he was
or offer up false platitudes on his endowment;
They used their real names and would share their coke
for an extra five, and he would pour them shots.
Sometimes, he would write beautiful sonnets for them
and they would be genuinely moved to tears.
If the sex was lousy, they took it in stride and didn’t bitch.
They didn’t conspicuously spit into folded Kleenex
or stuff their mouths with wads of spearmint gum
after he had come, just to lose the taste of him.
Rather, they swallowed because they, too, didn’t care
if they got one more filthy, fucking disease.
They were like him; defeated and empty,
just grateful not to be judged and discarded
like yesterday’s rotten fruit.

Winter’s Embrace


winter embrace

You asked me if I could shelter you for the winter;
“Three months, tops!” you promised.
And so the snows fell, covering the leaves never raked
and you warmed me with your laughter.
Then you came to me at first melt, happily exclaiming,
“I’m on my way, and thank you!”
But now my heart melts, and the absence of you
leaves me yet forever frozen in the memory of you.

Crucified Beneath Her Touch


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In my darkest hour,
rolled up into a ball upon the divan
reading Plath and Poe,
fantasizing about the silent sweetness of death;
writing angry, diminished verse raging against
all things holy and full of light…
then, only then was I full of purpose and certainty.

From the falling of the sun until the break of dawn,
pouring ice-less cups of bourbon to free my tongue,
burning with each gulp as I exorcised my demons
on the back of half-torn slips of
empty bank statements and creditor threat letters.

My loving Kate stood sentinel outside the door,
occasionally sneaking in a tepid bowl of broth
or a grilled cheese sandwich;
she both hated me beyond all measure
and attended to my waking needs with a love that
stung me to my bitter core.
She stayed because she could see in me
what I could not, as I lay crucified beneath
her touch. I stayed with her so that someone
would be around to answer the angry phone.

In the daylight, awash in the cool grey light of morning,
I tucked away in the roll-topped desk
all evidence of my madness.
Beneath a shower of scalding water,
I made vain attempts to wash away my sins
of the previous night.
I stuffed my walking corpse into
a starched white linen shirt,
draped with a burgundy tie,
and stepped into my fresh-pressed suit
(dear, Kate!) I kissed her dry lips goodbye.

Each day, I drive into the city,
interviewing for jobs I would never accept,
stopping by Tommy’s Irish Pub for a shot of Johnny,
and napping the afternoon away on a
faded green park bench outside the county courthouse.
At 5pm I headed home to flee the light once more.

Dinner would rest un-touched
as I passed straight through toward oblivion.
Kate would be at her spinning class
as I dropped the suit and all pretense,
pulled on a pair of faded jeans,
and slowly drifted into my melancholy.
Each day, I would rummage through her dresser,
lightly tracing my fingers over her satin underthings,
remembering when.

I’d pull another freshly  bought bottle
of amber courage from the kitchen pantry
(dear, sweet Kate) and poured
myself another night.

 

The Drowning



I have written
and written ‘till the tides roll in –
wave after wave
with each word flailing helpless
in the crashing surf. Similes pounded into
fine sand, while my metaphors are drug out
to unfathomable waters to sink.
I have cut my feet on the whitest coral
as slender crimson threads on paper shells spill into verse.
Beneath the surface a desperate kicking propels each
line upward for air. Clownfish nibble at my intent,
while ropes of seaweed strangle my meaning.
My muse sings like a distant siren and I am dashed
upon jagged rocks.
I am no poet or writer to contend, but my voice seeks purchase.
This poem is drowning and there is little hope of rescue.

Tortured Scribe


Delusions scattered like dying embers,
How shall I then progress?
The world revolves on a shaky spindle;
The heart barely beats in my chest.

Having given so much to this life,
I fear I’ve gone insane –
I awake at night with a sudden fright
And a fever in my brain.

I reach into the night descending;
A trembling hand extends.
My fingers white, with no insight
I grip the writer’s pen.

Words drip onto a page uncurled;
A scattering of thoughts still burning.
My soul calls out, “God, let me out!”
And speaks of desperate yearning.

Like splattered pools of fallen rain
That swallow my reflection,
I’m lost again and deep within
The fog of introspection.

And still no words to rise within
My consciousness this day;
Expressions of this tortured scribe
Must find another way.

The Writer’s Struggle


A writer never sleeps at night:
his dreams are all revisions –
when dark descends he’s lost within 
a hopeless indecision.

In love or rage the empty page 
remains a voiceless vision –
The words won’t come until he’s sprung 
from inspiration’s prison!

Frustrated sage, the pen is raised…
but nothing is forthcoming;
the ink he spills refuses still 
to transcend his shortcomings.

A prayer is tossed, but still he’s lost 
and soon the sun will rise –
He tries again, then drops his pen,
and finally shuts his eyes!

In full stagnation, his imagination 
has given up the quest –
He soon resigns to fate’s design
and lays down for a rest.

In spent repose, with both eyes closed
the taunting muse descends,
And whispers clear within his ear
“Get up! Begin again!”

And so it goes, the author knows:
it never gets much lighter!
The battle waged to fill a page 
consumes most every writer.