Holy God there is nothing more immediate (to me, right now) than Ocean Vuong’s writing. His essay, Beginnings: New York in The Adroit Journal is an empathic epic. Weaving his collegiate origin story as aspiring poet, homeless New Yorker, and retrofitted nurse for a friend’s Lithuanian grandmother, Vuong’s essay is everything you need to know about propitiating humanity in the age of all of us.
He closed his eyes and sang. If velvet cigarettes had a sound, that was it. It was “At Last” by Etta James. Sage started to shift his feet and I could tell his bones knew this familiar work as he gyrated and two-stepped, his fingers quickening into a snapping to the beat. “Man! How he gonna do me like this? This song gonna kill me tonight. It’s the saddest song in the world,” he shouted, his face wet with sweat. I nodded, smiling. People were already gathering, mostly other residents, but there were some stragglers of the night who were waiting for the final trains, standing with their last beers, a pizza or a pretzel in their hands. I saw the other homeless men and women begin to cheer up as they gathered and lay down around the song. Their limbs started to move and gesticulate as they warmed up to one another. As if through the song’s familiar landscape, they were able to see each other as human begins again. The whole scene had the effect of tremendous warmth and crushing sadness. I suddenly started to think of my mother, how, after my father was in prison, she and I would stand in the long lines outside churches to receive a loaf of bread and dented cans of soup. How we warmed ourselves by making up a song and dancing as the line moved along the snowy parking lot. I was suddenly stricken with a overpowering urge to weep. I wanted to weep fully and hard. But I didn’t. I was actually too tired to do so. I didn’t have the energy or even the cathartic motivation to cry. I just focused on busying my lips with the song, letting the words find their way in as I chewed those bittersweet lyrics with Sage beside me. “At last…. At last, my love has come along…”
I have a book of poetry coming out through Boost House and am so excited about it! It’s titled There Was So Much Beautiful Left and it’s about mental illness, god, and empathy. You can order it here: http://www.boost-house.com/store/raul-alvarez Cover Back Cover
sushisoto What I am thinking while falling backwards off the barstool in Sushi Soto is when the fuck did I get so old? My head smacks, something cracks, I throw up mainly on my chest, and the bartender runs over. Because blacking out would have been even more embarrassing, I don’t. He is a very polite yeller. “Sir? Sir your injury is bad? Yes sir I can help you!” I can’t explain how these shenanigans happen but they’re why Annie dropped me off. She knows I’m not worth the trouble and one of her stories was starting soon and she’s fed up with missing her stories. Today’s story: Murder by Design, on HGTV, where that Latina who used to do the weather on channel 9 interviews home decorators on death row. Even though we tape everything Annie still watches it live. She also hasn’t been too keen on me lately. She wouldn’t even look at me the last time we had sex, and a person has to work pretty hard not to look at the person they’re having sex with. I think she hurt her neck actually. She’s got a bad neck bone. It doesn’t make me love her less but it does make me pretty sad sack sorry for myself. I used to be a thin person and then sometime during cancer year I’d become a fat person. I really started to notice it in the shower. This one evening I was in there before bed and was thinking about masturbating but also spent forever cleaning my torso which had become really hairy and that must have been what first got me worried because no guys on TV have hair on their guts. This stuff was black and tightly curled like dick-area hair. I couldn’t get even a piece of a hard because of the dick-area hair that was everywhere and when I tried to suck my stomach in to feel a little better about the hair it didn’t really go in which hadn’t ever happened before. When I tried again I really gave it some effort while straining to look at myself in the tiny mirror next to the showerhead, and no dice. We’re talking Tummy City. I watched the water roll down my belly and all the fur I’d sprouted with absolutely no horny feelings until I got cold. Ever since then I’ve resigned myself to being a tubby guy. From the way I slump around the house checking on the contents of the fridge, secretly hoping that a treat mysteriously might appear from behind the containers filled with leftovers from Annie’s lunches with the girls from church – Oh goodness an éclair I’d say – a truly grade-A chubbo, and pop it in my mouth with the joy reserved only for the hairy fat and stupid who walk zombielike to the fridge only 20 minutes after dinner to betray their rationality because they want cream filling so bad they’ll try and will it into being. This fall is no good. I really hope I remembered to charge the phone. There is no way I’ll get a cab with this mess all over me, no way, Annie’s gonna pick me up and that’s it. I’m making the law. And why can’t she tell me to quit it if she’s so concerned about a few beers or whatever? And what do I come here for in the first place? The beer isn’t super great and the food is way too expensive and rubbery. The wasabi leaks. Like when you don’t shake the mustard bottle before you try to put it on your sandwich and that watery stuff gets everywhere? That’s what this wasabi is. The bartender emerges from where they make the not impressive wasabi carrying a small beach towel. It has Tweety Birds in various sports uniforms all over it and is baby blue. He smiles and blankets the towel over my chest. “Please sir you are not trying move please. We call ambulance already, will come soon. Yes please.” I try to talk to him but the words don’t really come out right. They sound like farts or animal noises more than “leave me alone pal” which is what I am trying to say. I let him keep petting me with the towel. His face is really close to my mouth and his bozo haircut makes it look like he’s been electrocuted and then decided This is the look. With this style of hair, I, a human male person, am looking presentable! I am having a bad day. So is this guy though. When Annie was driving off in the Lexus I could tell she knew something was gonna happen. She always knows! I swear the woman must be a psychic, which would be hilarious because she’s so religious and that’s probably not allowed at her church. A group of people are standing above me like a pyramid. I think I can make these fart/animal things coming out of my mouth turn back to English if I try really hard. I should have noticed how everyone who eats here is white. White people don’t care about leaky wasabi. Except for the employees everyone else is whispering. I’ve turned a bad sushi restaurant into church. Oh fuck me twice. Craig is here with Hanna. Craig was a client of mine until his daughter Hanna got into a big accident last year and our insurance company refused to pay for it because she had been on her phone. This was right after they changed the law in California and Craig was super pissed. I think he’s with Insure Geeks now because of their big “United we Text” campaign. If you have a smart-phone related accident on your record you can still get insurance for like, $50 bucks a month. I think Insure Geeks are pretty close to bankruptcy. I especially hate their mascot which is a raccoon in a toupee and a lab coat. His name is Rocko I.G. Buttertoes and he is more successful than most of the people I know. The I.G. stands for Insure Geeks, which you learn in the commercial where Rocko gets an honorary doctorate from Harvard for creating a potion that turns the DUIs on his driving record into a sexy lady raccoon. “Check it out he pissed himself” Craig whispers not quietly. The bartender, now gently petting me, asks, “Sir your pee is fine?” “Fart fart bark fart” I say back and Craig is eating this up. I can’t move my head to check and see how much I peed which is a concern. Actually I can’t really move anything? Is it bad to not feel my body? I think it’s bad to not feel my body but it’s worse to have to look at Craig’s fat face. At least Craig has probably been fat his whole life. When Annie got the news I ate nothing but drive-thru and spent my free time sitting around waiting for her to die. What I didn’t realize about being fat is I hate myself. “He’s broken something serious,” a guy eating a spring roll says. I am waiting for the pain to set in but it doesn’t come. Everywhere is buzzing. I smell my pee now and it’s worse than the vomit. My phone is inches away from my left hand and I can’t get to it. God. I can’t move at all. At our wedding there was about a minute during the vows that a bee kept buzzing near Annie’s cleavage. I was trying hard to look her in the eyes, to be totally present, but I couldn’t stop worrying about the goddamned bee. She said she never saw it. She used to walk everywhere. The weather being what it is here and us living near downtown, she loved the extra time outside. I think she got lots of attention from it too, given most people are attached to their cars. A pretty blonde with nice legs breaks up the monotony of being stuck in traffic downtown. She found the mass because her friend Gwen is a hypochondriac. Gwen had a mole on her left boob and was convinced it was malignant so she went to every doctor within earshot and told them to diagnose her with cancer and none of them did because she didn’t have cancer she just had a gross mole. Gwen needed to fill the not-having-cancer void so she became a cancer evangelist. She convinced Annie to get her breasts checked. I only remember flashes of the treatment. Hair in the drain. The smell of leftover McDonald’s in the car. Driving her bras to the dumpster down the street so she wouldn’t accidentally see them in our own trash. The paramedics burst through the door and push Craig out of the way, which is nice. They ask me a bunch of questions and I respond with my noises and they stop asking me questions. They put a huge brace on my neck and cut my shirt open. They are beautiful and they are my friends. One of them steps on my phone. The screen shatters but I don’t even care. I just want to go back home and then back and back and back to when I was young and she was healthy and we ate meals together. The sushi guy is now taking the lead, “he fall down, was bad. Crack his back, big time. He can’t move.” The medics gather around me like pallbearers at a casket. They lift me slightly and slide a plank under my back. They put a mask on my face and tell me not to talk. The mask is very large and it smells like a new car. It is cool and it is soft and I am very tired. On the way to the ambulance I see the sky. It’s summer school blue and did I tell you Annie has these knockout blue eyes? When I was still too scared to ask her out I’d think about how great those eyes would be to look at every day and that sort of positive thinking helped me get less scared. On our first date we went to watch the planes. There used to be a diner near the gates that had a big window facing the runways. She loved resting her eyes on the planes as they ascended – scanning the angles they’d take as they ran headfirst into the clouds. She’d keep an eye on the clouds for a few seconds after they disappeared. The window was real thick so you couldn’t hear much of the engines but you could really feel them in your gut. The big thunder waiting at your feet until leaping like a child towards your beating, living heart.
He closes a cabbage moth in the cave two toddler hands make. The wing life fluttering for a way out the Wednesday before I die in the fire I’ve been promised. Sky drops a freckle. We are ready to quit the park. There is shame in the grass we leave behind. He opens his hands to me, a gentle dust stain on his palm & asks what happened cabbage moth The tree is sick. The tree is why he bought the house & it is filled with white flies. He pokes the scab bark & nothing happens. A man charges $300 to poke the scab bark & nothing happens. The flies are too small. Black leaves slop against the windows. The death will be a block party that lasts several months & is silent as a fence cabbage moth We are four bowls of uneaten cheerios. He is in the corner, a page in his mouth. We listen for the bitter grape of the neighbors’ TV. How do you woman like this? He opens his fruit mouth. There is nothing but the black streak of the corpse tree. The page still dry I bend to read. It says the fire will taste

cabbage moth

There is no color in my nightgown. When the Santa Ana wind comes I kiss what mother taught me, sweet terrible, lips parted the aperture of pearl. We speak honeymoon Spanish until he forces a long suck & gems & bitter throat & sound. Jade, amber, sapphire. These are fingers underneath. Feed me that fucking diamond

cabbage moth

Nothing is wrong because here is a French bread pizza. I put the cheesy wrapper in the trunk. I put coconuts in the trunk. None of you fuckers read my play but here is a piece of my stomach for you to watch. Here is the anglerfish from your night terror & here is special underwear for your stupid kidneys. There was never blood in your soda pop & God didn’t tell me your name

cabbage moth

Either I vomit on the cat or the cat vomits on the floor. Nothing is real except the big happening. I fixed the Bible for us so you can kiss me with your eyes open I miss you. Que lastima mi amor, que lastima mi arbol. Don’t look in the trunk. I am so sorry about the fat. I am so sorry I vomited your stinking heart

cabbage moth

I say Cadillac is beautiful. Soft maroon leather never demands what is pink inside my bones. He and he and he among us. I am smitten by the algae in our dirty lake. Finally there is joy at the end pieces of bread. The two recite commercials as they rip. Give the wet birds my lunch, I can’t wait to see my skull  
Last night I couldn’t sleep and for the first time in a few weeks I noticed how beautiful the woman in the picture I keep on my bookshelf is. I don’t know who this woman is for sure but I think we’re related because I found the picture in my grandfather’s sock drawer a few days after he died when I was going through all his things because I didn’t know what else to do. But what I want to ask you is have you heard the El trains today? They’re still up after all these years. But what I want to ask you is you know when you think your phone made a noise but when you check it you realize it didn’t make a noise and that instead the noise or the vibration or whatever you thought you heard or saw was just in your head. And probably it is a manifestation of your desire to be connected to people more which is so beautiful I love you so much because you are filled with blood   and God made you a scrapbook of all the times you avoided eye contact with somebody on the street asking for change. They actually made a Facebook album and it’s titled “everybody does this all the time but the key is to feel bad about it.”   Just kidding there is no God and you can’t use that many words in a Facebook album title anyway. You only have 40 characters. And God wouldn’t be mean to you because they love you.   This one time a man asked me for change at the LaSalle blue line station and I had 40 dollars in my pocket so I told the man no and he paused and then asked do you have any change and I said no and he paused and asked do you have any change and I said I do but that I didn’t want to give it to him and he asked me why I lied to him twice and I said it was easier than telling him I didn’t love him and he said why did I lie to him and I said what do you mean and he said Raul I know you love me and he gave me a kiss on the cheek and we stood there while 10,000 trains came and went and I called him father and he called me a beautiful pile of feelings and when I think about him my fingers turn pink.   Oh I forgot to tell you that every night we all have the same dream but can’t remember it but I cut a hole in the ground beneath my apartment and dug my way down to where all the bones are and saw that they spelled out “the dream is that we are the same person” so guess what you’re my twin! Isn’t that great?   But what I want to ask you is why can’t we recognize when someone is saying I love you in our immediate proximity. I don’t mean when our mom says it to our dad or when our dog says it to our garbage can or when our hair says it to our comb but when everyone in a crowd says it quietly inside themselves. Is it because we haven’t read the bones right? Hold on: I think my phone is trying to tell me something.     Status update: Sanity is the first time leaflets curl out of wood Status update: Sanity is the song you can’t get out of your head after a particularly incredible make out session with someone you just met. Status update: Sanity is a little bug you are too tired to deal with right now Oh my god you are my best friend today! Oh my god it’s so unfair that there are more people than homes. If only we could make more homes! To celebrate making it through another Thursday I made you a necklace that says youth culture forever and a bracelet that says taco party at my place. If you want to know why I’m being coy it’s because when my mother tried to kill herself it didn’t work because I am one of the lucky ones and she’s a great mom. I told her I was writing this poem and asked if it’d be okay to get a statement from her for it and she said “honey you can have anything you want because I love you.” I know I’ve said I love you too many times in this poem but it’s okay because it’s a rhetorical device. Rhetorical devices are language tricks you can use to tell people you love them. What I’m saying is if there is anything worthwhile about growing up religious it’s that you will never stop believing in magic no matter what you tell yourself. What I’m saying is saying that you’re saying things can be a political act or even something else.   I have a dear friend who sleeps in my bed when his insides are on fire because my bed is all the oceans. I have a dear friend who calls me every night at 3am to tell me what the moon is doing. I have a dear friend whose eyes are made of very shy birds. I have a dear friend who eats clouds for breakfast. I have a dear friend who wants your teeth to be her teeth. I have a dear friend who lives inside a bus and you can ask for a ride anytime and they’ll take you to wherever you need to go because they love driving. I have a dear friend who got the phrase SENTIMENTALITY RULES inside his lip and if you have a problem with this poem you can go talk to him. This is something: you can be friends with someone you just met if the rain holds up. This is something: you can be friends with someone even if you’re both comprised of broken pieces. The pieces still work fine, I promise.   Oh God! Is there anything like the summer? I think so   I think you are   when you’re still alive because we say your name so often. So much can be erased by not saying. But you’re here because we’re chatterboxes, sweetheart.   Sleep is okay if you’re into playing dead, but saying YOU YOU YOU is better.    

Hello Family, I am very excited to have you come visit the incredible city of Chicago! Culture here is pretty different from the best-coast, so I wanted to give you a little primer on what to expect when you’re here. I hope this helps you plan your visit! IN CHICAGO, THE WEATHER IS SLIGHTLY AGGRESSIVE 

A typical Monday morning on Lake Shore Drive Beautiful Lake Michigan! Just like the Pacific Ocean, but with more Ice-Trees  Firefighters wonder, “how is a fire happening?” at this Chicago warehouse

That you will accidentally put away all your snow gear for the season, and then you will suddenly need it again. IN MAY.

DRESS FOR SUCCESS (MEANING PUT ON EVERYTHING YOU OWN, PROBABLY?)   I recently had a great conversation with my grandmother. She said, “oh Raulie it’s been terribly cold in Fullerton! You wouldn’t believe it. It was THREE degrees last night!” I laughed and said, “Grandma, I love you, but you’re being an insane person. The current temperature is 78 degrees where you are. Here, it’s -8 with 25 mile per hour winds and we’re getting lake effect snow. If you were to stand outside unprotected, you would develop frostbite in under 30 minutes.” I say this to stress the importance of understanding that you are not ready for the weather here, no matter what grandma says. It should be much warmer in February than it is now, but please, for your own happiness and safety, don’t think, “oh it got CHILLY last night and I was wearing flip-flops and jean shorts… so I should be good!” You won’t be good. Here is a helpful guide to dressing for winter weather.

  The guy needs a hat and gloves, but the girl is dressed like a champ! CHICAGO IS A REALLY JUST A SERIES OF NEIGHBORHOODS

The city of Chicago is divided into 77 unofficial neighborhoods. Each of these neighborhoods has its own unique culture, pace, demographics, and strengths. While you’re here, we will be visiting several of these neighborhoods. Here are a few you’ll definitely experience. LOGAN SQUARE Logan Square is the neighborhood I ‘m moving to in a few days. Longman and Eagle, the restaurant I used to work at, is in this neighborhood, as are many of my friends. Logan Square is undergoing some tumultuous gentrification, which is something people talk about in different ways. I personally love this neighborhood’s mix of working class no-nonsense attitude and artist-class all-nonsense attitude. Neighborhood attractions include Yusho, Analogue, Parts and Labor, Lula Cafe, the Logan Theatre, and Animal Kingdom.   UKRAINIAN VILLAGE   I lived in Ukrainian Village for 3 years. It’s lovely and small and has a boatload of Eastern Europeans who really, really don’t like people who aren’t Eastern European! There is beautiful architecture everywhere, including very old Chicago homes (pre-Chicago fire) and insanely large churches. Local attractions include Bite Cafe, the Empty Bottle, the Rainbo Club, and Hoosier Mama Pie Company. PILSEN Pilsen is hands down the most beautiful neighborhood in Chicago. For decades Pilsen has been a bastion of Mexican-American culture, and the result is a neighborhood that is unbelievably colorful, vibrant, and dynamic. However, Pilsen is a microcosm for a large scale Chicago problem: hyper-segregation. The city of Chicago has been institutionally planned in such a way as to keep white and non-white neighborhoods separate. In Pilsen, the predominantly (and politically) Chicano culture is at odds with a seeping gentrification of middle-class Caucasians who have been driven out of neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village because of sky-rocketing rent prices. Just look at this place:   THE INEVITABILITY OF DOWNTOWN CHICAGO We’ll also go downtown, because that’s where the big buildings are. But we don’t need to spend too much time here. It’s not that exciting. WE HAVE VERY INTROSPECTIVE RAPPERS If you like music, it’s probably from Chicago. Well, okay. That’s not totally true. But really, it probably is.  Anyway, artists here tend towards self-reflection, for whatever reason. I suspect the weather probably has a lot to do with it.      THERE ARE LOTS OF THINGS TO DO IN CHICAGO Oy, this is getting long! Here are some great articles that feature different places we can try: 20 Great Bars That Ellyn Can Still Get a Diet Coke At  The Best New Restaurants  10 Pretty Good Coffee Shops  A Few Good Venues And Also A Few Terrible Ones  There Are Bookstores  Do You Like Public Radio? This American Life? Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me? We Do! An Ethnography of Hipsterdom, Courtesy of the Reader    SOMETHING I’VE NOTICED On a national level, Chicago is painted as an underdog that is consistently being outdone by NYC and LA. But in the context of the Midwest, it is the opposite. Here, Chicago is a monolith that sucks the actual talent AWAY from other locales. Two examples: We took the Onion from Madison, and then New York took the Onion from us. Students from Minneapolis created Pitchfork, and then moved to Chicago, where we got credit for it. Now Pitchfork is mostly operated out of Brooklyn. Ultimately, most of the actual creativity in the United States gestates in the “flyover states” and then is credited to a big city. This is why, when anyone bad mouths places like Missouri, Minnesota, or Iowa, you should always correct them. It is these states that make our cities so interesting.   MALORT IS GREAT OR AWFUL Malort is a spirit that is only sold in Chicago. This is from its Wikipedia page:
Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malort. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, ‘My Malort is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.’
It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts – seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSEVERE. Make it past two ‘shock-glasses’ and with the third you could be ours…forever”
It tastes like sour fire? Does that make sense? You’ll find out.

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We need to change the way we talk about things We can’t pretend to be the greatest We aren’t a football team there are real stakes   We are a collection of do good and do evil   We are all packed in the city universe   We are shredding into glitter   Be brave Put me in danger   We are dead We are slow burn   Raphael was the kids name right? he wanted to hurt me because I was gay. Well, he thought I was anyway. I didn’t think I was gay but was scared I was wrong. I was always scared of things getting out of my control. I don’t know how to talk about molestation. I am not sure how to be brave about it because it already happened. There is no more bravery needed.    I didn’t know it was going to get in here. I can’t stop it now. It’s happening   How to put the protest in here? How to put that I love you. I love you so much, but I don’t want to have to work   I never get halfway through my morning   Few words can make a line break. Don’t go out tonight you have to die later   We need a way into this  
moneyalways
  1. You cling like a frightened child to the legs of predictable men
  2. Why is a poem about you so political so quickly?
  3. You dried husk of a living thing
  4. You false art
  5. You disgusting excuse for a trinket
  6. You failure of human thought
  7. You meaningless god the width of a fingertip
  8. You maggot incapable of passing your own shit
  9. There is a kind woman in an HR department who has a file on her computer that says I am worth X amount of you per year
  10. Every two weeks a series of electric impulses sends some of you to a holding cell in a plastic card I keep in fabric near my butt
  11. You are a reminder of my animal impulse
  12. You make death so much more complicated
  13. I see your language
  14. You tell me when I can visit my family
  15. You privilege manipulation over sincerity
  16. You make the suburban class
  17. You make complete fucking idiots into role models
  18. You make all poems about you sound like the bitter ramblings of a failure. Your love doesn’t make any sense because when I have a lot of you, you don’t really give me anything unless I spend you but then I have less of you and feel less like I’m alive or something
  19. You make my grandmother stay married to my grandfather which yeah I guess is her own choice but not really because how could she feed herself without the you that he has. You make me sound like an idiot. You reveal my hypocrisy. There is little I can say about you that hasn’t already been said. I had not thought you had undone so many beautiful people. I had not thought you could undo so much of the work of humanity. I think you are the hands I use to pull apart a pillbug. You are the finger I use to falsely accuse my brother of stealing something I stole. You are the words I use to tell my wife I love her. You have pillaged the country of my ancestors and the country of my children
  20. Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings!
  21. When the engineers we paid to build the atom bomb accidentally killed 100,000 Japanese civilians or when the dumb ass drug dealer we pretend to like accidentally works for a chain of people responsible for the murder of a 5 year old  in Tijuana. You know, collateral! Profit! You can’t earn a dollar without someone else losing a dollar. There is a geometry  to the transfer of funds
  22. When has doing hard drugs made you a better person?  Let kindness guide your finances.
  23. Our perceptions of goodness might differ, sure. That’s fine. But let us work out our goodness with the way we treat our possessions. Let us forget the word possession in any content outside of art. What is the difference, then, between a lemon tree and an ATM? How are our roots members of the same family
  24. Where do we choose to draw the line between our health and our possession? How can we establish a consistency required of gregarious consumption
  25. How very middle class of me to rail against you. How very cognitive dissonance of me to think I can ridicule you, who has been my shield against actual labor. Who has blanketed me in higher education, the bourgeois to be nostalgic, the privilege to write poetry on a Saturday afternoon while drinking a 4 dollar cup of coffee while typing into a $1200 computer. How very very American of me to preach against the love of you while being enslaved to you entirely to $40,000 in student loans for an MFA in creative writing. But still, I have to do something. I have to recognize that even though I need you to survive, I also don’t need you for anything. That there is beauty in illogic, in ambiguity, in self-aware dissonance
  26. There is nothing more lovely than a typical American family at Disneyland for Christmas. There is nothing more lovely than a typical American family gathered around a Christmas tree in a lovely suburban home
  27. How can I effectively scare you when I pay 13 dollars for a six-pack of beer, which is in and of itself completely useless.
  28. If we, together, as thinkers and feelers, as compositions of matter who for whatever reason have been given life at the same small insignificant moment in time, can’t recognize each other’s faces without artifice, what do we have? We have completely nothing
  29. We all want to believe we’re making it. We’re Americans
  30. It is impossible to write poetry about it without that poetry coming off as political to such a large degree that it sounds like a parody of political poetry
  31. What pisses me off about money is that it makes us shitty judges of a person’s character
  32. What pisses me off about money is that it makes me feel the need to convince myself of why I am actually better than my friends who happen to have a lot of it
  33. What pisses me off about money is that it forces us into routines when many people were wired to live in an unpredictable manner
  34. Let goodness dictate how you spend your money
  35. What pisses me off about money is that it is used by the upper class as a carrot to dangle in front of the poorer class that works for them
  36. What pisses me off about money is that it makes shitty poetry
  37. There is a small choir of lemon trees in the backyard of my grandmother’s house. Well okay not a choir, there are 3 lemon trees. They are sort of nowhere near each other. These trees are the reason I lay underneath them. These trees were paid for. These trees are shitty judges of a person’s character. These trees are making it as Americans. There is no way to understand how to get the anger in. And I want to be angry laying in bed with my wife as she tries to hide the fact that something is wrong in her body but we don’t have the insurance to pay for it because it would cost $256 dollars every two weeks to add her to my plan which costs me $25 dollars every two weeks because I am employed by the company and she has been hurting for at least 3 months and her legs are so so tired and her feet are so so tired and I don’t want to pressure her for sex tonight because really she’s in so much pain and I feel like it’s sort of my fault because instead of saving money to get her insurance I am paying off student loans I acquired to learn to write poetry for a few years. It’s difficult to write without the lights on. I was the most poor in the back of a Volvo a few years ago. I was the most poor working for Taco Bell. I was the most poor serving three nacho cheese chalupas to Snoop Dogg one late Saturday night after he’d gone to see Chris Rock at the Improv. I was the most poor on the blow up mattress on the floor of our first Chicago apartment together. I used to give 10 percent of my paycheck to the church but now that I’ve moved on from all of that I can’t get my money back. That’s on me though. There is an awkward familiarity to thinking of five dollars in terms of a lunch at Wendy’s. Do you assassinate me? Do you know the feeling of an insect between your fingers? Have you done this with your eyes closed?
  38. Money is the first time I see pornography in a dirty bed. A series of magazines that feel so slick I can’t even turn the pages without hearing the familiar crack of the spine. There is an insane memory at the table. There is an insane memory in this bed
  39. Money begins with the hazardous paperboy flinging rolled up packages of news at stupid porches all across America or when a skyscraper opens for the workweek. It is three nacho cheese chalupas. Money is a squirrel chuffing at me from a lamppost and the quacking of my mammal heart. It is the 500,000 words I have to choose from or the length of a Tweet. It is the stupid clacking keyboard outside. A little girl on a moped or a series of sunburns stacked on summer skin
  40. How much does a mariachi band get paid every time their songs are played on a boom box in Humboldt Park? Is it cool that the battery on my laptop has needed service for 5 months?
  41. In the middle of the night we have been woken by nightmares about hallways for 130 days. There is no color to a mugging other than the quiet desperation of paradigms colliding. How do you plan for a severe case of the middle class? What antibiotics are covered in my HMO. Can you speak a poem without someone yawning? Is the yawning a currency itself?
  42. How do you distill the economy of the earth into five minutes of English
  43. Every time I press a key on my laptop, does Apple get a cut? Should I acknowledge them in the front matter of my first published chapbook? What does it cost to wake up my foot after it’s fallen asleep? How much am I supposed to tip my friend? 35%? If I don’t tip her enough will she stop hanging out with me? How much does it cost to maintain the respect of your peers? Is it possible to decorate your house with leftover twigs?
  44. How much more beautiful are expensive flowers than the lemongrass that grows like debt in our shared backyard. How much are you willing to pay for this vintage resume?
  45. There is a particular seagull worth watching out for in Humboldt Park. Mainly because it’s 8 feet tall, but it’s also fairly aggressive. If you plan on bringing egg salad, he’s going to want to get in on that. Also he speaks Polish fluently so be careful about what kinds of slang you use around him
  46. I fill my pockets with cabbage moths so I can tip my friends with handfuls of silver powder so easily taken
  47. Is there a purpose to the number of leaves in a lemon tree?
  48. We use little moments of connection to pay for things
  49. When the bus driver has the same bags under his eyes that I do on a ragged Tuesday morning, and we both spend a half-tic too long focusing on the shape of the others wrinkled skin, we both get a full serving of potatoes and leeks for dinner that evening
  50. There is no stanza as important as a yacht owned by a 16 year old rap prodigy
  51. How much more beautiful is lemongrass stranded in your crooked teeth
  52. Common weeds behind our shared apartment.
  53. Will we save enough of this free energy to fly into the sun
  54. Wilted squash leaves show our lack of support to their investment in being a living thing
  55. We water judiciously
  56. In our first winter together we eat whatever cut of chicken we can pay for and still have enough left over for chunky tomato sauce. Is this middle class or what! If we can remember the 90s then we are middle class and that’s that. My father would never forgive himself if I slipped into poverty so for him I’ll pretend I’m not there every Christmas
  57. We are all dually convinced things are working and things are falling apart
 

 

My grandfather’s home is a  three-car garage 2400 square ft blue sanctuary. Purchased in 1984 for $187,000, the dusty chandelier in the foyer is Southern California classy. I remember seeing a picture of my 1st birthday party which was held in its living room: a cake shaped like a Yule log, three maraschino cherry topping – a chocolate frosted chocolate cake. In the faded photos that are usually forgotten inside of the cabinet located along the second floor hallway between the cabinet for last season’s clothes and the cabinet for extra towels we are eating in front of the first big screen television. We celebrate me at the foot of the television. Peanut shells are strewn across the cement in the backyard.

He gathers them from local bars: saves them for the crows. I assume the gardener throws them away sometimes but usually there are thousands of shells choking the grass at any given time; if you leave your shoes on inside the house, he gets apoplectic. Take off your goddamn shoes kid! Shit man, we just had the carpets cleaned. Okay, be cool. He’s a mix of angry salesman and Mexican jazz aficionado. Be cool man.

I am more fascinated by my grandfather than by any other human being I have ever met. He is unconscionably spiteful, unparalleled in generosity, undeniably alcoholic, unmistakably hilarious, and unstoppably hardworking. I have hated him more than anyone in my life, and have loved him more than anyone in my life at varying points. He has a big screen television in his bedroom. His bedroom is off limits to anyone without his expressed permission to enter. He and my grandmother have had separate rooms for as long as I can remember. They have been married for over 50 years. I have seen them kiss only a handful of times.

After he broke his neck he spent two weeks in the hospital. On the first day out, he asked me and my brother in his room: we were to disrobe him and put on his pajamas. He couldn’t do it himself anymore. I was tasked with removing the pants. I was the only one willing to pull off the underwear. He made jokes the whole time; my brother was in heaven. His task came next. Put some fresh underwear on kid, and shut up. Your brother likes it. His penis was much smaller than I expected.

There is one impressive angel statue in his room: it is the oldest in the house which has over 250 angel statues. It is heavy: I’d guess 20 pounds and made of soft stone. Fifteen years ago I broke it. Do not remember how but I still remember watching it fall off the table and cracking in half at the middle. Everyone was very calm. Super glue. All of it. This was my first contact with the substance. We used two tubes and it worked wonderfully: the stone is porous enough inside for it to work wonders. But the crack is still visible. He likes it. Most of the furniture in his room a dark wood.

A large portrait of my family leans against the bottom of his chest of drawers. It is of my grandparents and their two children: both girls. Taken in the late 70s. Everyone has big hair. The TV in his room is always on. He forgets to turn it off when he leaves for work. He saves stacks and stacks of tapes he’s taken of military specials on the history channel. His room is the master bedroom. It is the size of my first apartment, but with a much nicer bathroom and two full length closets with meticulously organized clothes. Many ties in rows, progressing in color: Black to Ash to Forest green to beige. No peacocking. Military grade greens and grays only. All is an ode to the Second World War. He is a fan of the United States Military. There is a heavy jacket in the closet. The heavy jacket is never worn.

It was purchased when he went to Nepal to visit Mt. Everest. He got food poisoning at the base of the mountain. He laughs when he says his Sherpa gave him two sleeping bags. One to replace the other when it would inevitably become soiled. The jacket got him through the nights: he never liked the cold.

In 2003, I am eighteen. I head to my grandparents’ home to do some laundry. My grandfather is fighting with my mother about something. She is nervous and twitching her hands. He calls her a stupid whore, and I lose it. I tell him if he says another goddamned word I will punch him right in the mouth. He laughs. He laughs and tells me to shut the fuck up and get out of his goddamned house. My mom tells me to leave. I am ashamed because I do leave, I do leave and she stays there with his anger. I go and get the only tattoo I will ever receive. My grandfather forgets about the fight the next day, says my tattoo is stupid. He is losing his hair so quickly. Rogaine chestnut brown streaks across the forest green marble countertop. The watery consistency of blood, the smell of oil and burnt tires. His head, all wires and scalp. The first manic-depressive diagnosed in the Herrera family. The depression is hidden in his bedroom: tapes and tapes of documentaries/shades drawn/dirty duvet/yellowing stacks of magazines/heavy wooden drawer of pills/receipts kept from each early afternoon drink session/don’t come in/quietly crying/that angel is so heavy/don’t touch anything/hair gel stained toilet seat/drain clogged with what’s left/old batteries rattle in the drawer/never wears that jacket/no pictures of his father/no pictures of his past/superglued together. The mania is still talked about in hushed whispers: Lynn pushed down the stairs/the affair/broken neck/thousands of dollars of presents/new car for every kid/Disneyland hotel/money/money/money/I love you/I love you/I  love you

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© Raul Rafael Alvarez