Directly above this is the video evidence of my Writer’s Showcase reading with Cyberpunk Apocalypse in Pittsburgh upon the completion of my residency there this past summer. It’s worth a glimpse. It is an incomplete, edited version of the reading–not too unreasonable since the entire thing was about forty-five minutes long. But you do miss out some of the theatrics of the actual performance. Such as Daniel Mcloskey, the fellow you see in the video illustrating the poems I read, throwing out t-shirts into the audience or pouring shots of fancy booze for the folks in the front two rows. But you do get to see Tom Dewing reading from the zine he wrote for the event, titled “Matt Whispers Secret Best Friend,” as well as a couple of the ten ten-second stories folks that didn’t know me made up about me. Oh yeah, and also three of the seven poems I read that night, the text of which follows below for those interested.
After that long winter
all the leaves sprung forth
from the hands of dry branches
and exploded with a frenetic energy,
raining millions of fragments
beneath the trees which had housed them.
It happened with a slight pop
as of a soap bubble exploding,
audible only if one happened to be outside
at the time. The rest of us woke
one morning to find all the trees bare,
our sidewalks littered with the brown
of spent foliage—
unexpected, spontaneous, and sudden,
an upturned nose at the slow decay
characteristic of autumn.
The newspapermen came to call it
“The Great Foliage Incident”
as though it was some silly political mishap.
An important physicist came on the news
to reflect on how it was merely
a matter of time before the cycle
which had held them for so many years
was broken, as, he claimed, all cycles eventually
break down, the second law of thermo-
dynamics and such. The speech was difficult
to follow. Many scientists, though,
didn’t quite agree. Some lost it.
There were swarms who stepped away from
their positions at the major universities
while others clogged the airwaves with editorials
begging people to believe that reason and logic
were still the dictates of thought, and so forth.
And let’s not forget about the suicides.
Famous now is the image of the one man,
his white lab-coat stained and yellowing,
two days of beard grey on his face,
perched atop the roof of the Physics department
ex nihilo nihil fit, his oft-
quoted last words ringing through
the crowd of gawkers that had gathered,
one foot trembling over the chasm,
eyes closed for some unexplained reason—
perhaps because he realized
the leap of faith he was now making
in assuming he would hit the ground.
I’ve been so emotional lately I seem to appear places
without having made the decision to go there. A few pints
down the hatch, thoughts heaving in the leaden night, and
here I am at that one girl who I hope remembers my name’s
doorstep and thank god I don’t have a boombox with me—
and anyways it was as I was wandering the city like this,
last night, all wrapped up in turmoil that I found myself at
the Panera dumpster last night standing over three bags
filled with more fresh bread than I could consume in a year.
Now maybe this is something about loss and longing
actually leading to something positive. I don’t know. What I
do know is that tossing the lid open to a harvest of still-
warm bread, the baker’s hatch glowing golden on all their
backs, I honest-to-god-shit-you-not cried. As in actual tears.
I started to fill up my bag, imagining bursting through the
door to my apartment with a feast to show for myself, my
roommates cheering, but I knew they were all asleep. And I
would have fumbled it anyway—2 AM, the thrill of the
catch in me, it was lost. That moment was all mine—
ripping open the bags, drunk, thinking about a girl who
would probably mean the world to me if she’d only call me
back, seeing that bread stacked there, as if waiting for me. I
think that if the last month were a movie this would be the
end of act II. Act I—meet the girl, fall completely and
unforgivably in love. Act II—girl doesn’t answer her phone,
ditches you that one time, you see her at the art show
making eyes at that one handsome guy she has her hand on
the arm of, etc. Try to figure out how to deal with being in
love. Wander around in the rain a lot. Go to sad movies by
yourself. And drink. End of act II—“moment of clarity”
occurs, camera pans out and up to reveal the
alley, then the whole street, then this neighborhood from above, in which
protagonist (me) is an insignificant fleck. It’s probably
raining. String-heavy instrumental song is playing. In the
movie version act III comes next, wherein I am driven to
action by the force of my moment of clarity, and maybe I
go bum rush her photography opening and confess my
undying love for her, and we smooch as the crowd at the
reception cheers us on. But there was no music in the alley,
only the sound of me sobbing. And somewhere, a bird
chirping, having forgotten that the day’s a long way away.
THE PROTAGONIST SPEAKS
In another version of this story
I called in to work, stayed home
to watch the people walking their dogs.
In another I was fired back in December.
In another I had moved years ago
to be closer to that girl
who would eventually break my heart.
Another there is no work, only
people sitting and talking. Yet another
I am old and do nothing but watch baseball
and sit. Ah, the possibilities! Maybe
I do go in to the bar, but instead
leave early with some townie girl
I care nothing about. Maybe I say no
to another drink—yes, I see it,
I am sober. There are no dead hunks
of fleshy memory inside me, all prim
and beaming the way only the newly clean
can beam—maybe I walk out, quit
the evening that has turned stale
and somber, almost 6 am now. The pages
of my commuter book are wet with rain,
and I look up to city-sky and notice
somehow, inexplicably, a new day is here.
There is another story, see, somewhere
in here—one with no protagonist
and something beautiful happens,
and no one is around to bear witness.
I did want to briefly note that a previous version of the poem “BROOKLINE MA” appeared in the second issue of Chicago-based literary magazine Two With Water, as well as previous versions of two of my other poems. They are great and you should support them and pick up a copy of the magazine.