By: Douglas W. Nyback
The terrible truth is:
I have loved and I have been loved.
One half of me the beach as the tide comes in
all that’s left after it retreats.
And the ocean brings life, doesn’t it?
O, God. How sweet it is when the tide comes in.
How the people rush to the water.
How the waves crash upon the shore.
For the beach is nothing
but broken pieces
and the water fills the cracks
taking away what is brittle and separate
and filling it
that it may squish, delightfully, beneath the toes
of younger souls than I.
We can’t take back what we’ve done
what’s been done to us
but tides turn
love abandons, every day, one of us.
Taking with it life and youth,
leaving truly, the beach, billions of shattered pieces
made raw by love’s relentlessness,
made hot by it’s absence
and made terrible by the barrenness of what’s left.
I stare out over the dark horizon.
As the water laps against a shore that I cannot see
I bury my toes, beneath the heat of today,
the city sleeping behind me.
I smile, seeing just a spark
way off in the distance
like they Eye of God, like forgiveness
bringing with it a new dawn
light cascading over the dark water
daring it to exist.
“You have no proof.” It seems to say,
“But the Moon wanes and the Sun rises.
And it’s love, isn’t it? Coming in on the tide?”
And I know it is, I know. Love washing in like forgiveness.
“It’s there.” I say. “Thank God.”
My eyes close,
breath leaving me in a sigh
as the water begins to trickle in
over the tops of my feet.
For the beautiful truth is:
I have loved and I have been loved.
My eye twitches,
hair pulled back
tucked behind my ears,
oily and full of the world,
so I can see my face
bent by the bottles before me,
taking a left
at the laugh lines
at this thing.
This pure thing,
An old man to my left
sips pint after pint
painted by tonight’s last candle
as he talks about
how in high school
he was the fourth tallest kid on his basketball team
twisting and turning through
the drunks behind me
too dumb to utilize their alcohol
doomed forever to be
And He on the left
would have died for his team
and he did,
for we are only ever the sum total of the moments we’re present for
and as I look at his face
taking a left at the laugh lines
I see how he’s squinted
through decades of his life
from under water
unable to understand
not just how long he’s been drowning
but who the hell put the lake there in the first place.
And he sees my eyes,
Staring over the bar,
squinting as if under water
trying to blur the figure across from me
into the woman I would have seen
before all this age.
For the distance between us
is a singularity,
Two eyes meet
and a universe is born
the entirety of everything only ever defined
by the sum total of the moments we’re present for
and how in that instant
you can see the universe
not just through your eyes, but hers.
And you’re born again,
The two of you.
All that’s left after all that everything.
If only he could have seen me when I was younger.
Imagine what he’d have thought of me then.
My eyes close,
birds chirping all around me
and traffic, oh, that too
but spring is in the wind
brushing hair into my eyes like a
child, giggling I’m sure.
Raymond Carver falls to my chest as
and I think even here, where the ants
can find me, I’ll be safe
blanketed by his words.
How brutal he felt love was.
He kept writing about it, though.
Do you ever sit in a park and dream
that an old love will walk by?
Harm’s ghost undone,
by the sound of trees evolving
This world is too beautiful not to
By: Douglas W. Nyback
My fingers brush the handle of my
coffee cup, absently, as though it
were your hand.
Such an unconscious gesture
to think poetically of touching you.
How broken we both are,
with only two smiles between us
laid bare in laugh lines, cut into our
by love’s half truths
perhaps, together, made whole.
If only for an evening.
It wasn’t moonlit when I walked you
but the cocktail of city lights painted
you perfectly, all those people awake
at the witching hour. How silently
grateful I was to them,
that they lived so I could see you.
You promised me nothing and I
We talked so deeply of God last
like two rain drops falling over a river
into all that everything.
“Oh!” we exclaimed,
when the image struck us,
“That must be what heaven is like.”
By: Douglas W. Nyback
Dear Lady Optimism,
There is a pane of glass in me
behind my eyes
which I look through
while giving nothing of myself.
Last night I raised a glass
in a room alone
nothing left but a piece of paper.
“May I write like a younger man.”
never believing I would.
I hope for different things now,
kindness having abandoned me.
These things we take advantage of,
How beautiful you are,
like you were painted with a brush.
You are to me
rain on London streets
a memory we’ve yet to make,
and perhaps never will
your inconsistent anatomy
pressing through your lips
and into my imagination
so I can make it limitless.
Ever the foundation of love,
I have an insistent impression of you,
sweet Lady Optimism,
an untrue extension of my own ego
begging to be proved wrong.
For I am powerless against them, aren’t I?
All these ghosts of how I’ve been loved.
By: Douglas W. Nyback
John stared down the barrel of new love.
The battle, he thought, was between the unbelievable insistence in her eyes and his own private fear of how little soul he had left.
“The soul is currency.” He told her. “We have a finite amount and I think I’ve spent all of mine.”
He’d known Andrea for years but he’d only known her for an evening. One night, lit under the zigzagging permanence of Edison’s electric invention. The culmination of a perfect storm.
One day he’d seen her out in the world, on stage, in her element and falling in love. For the eighth show that week, but brand new, impulsive and exciting. He hugged her afterwards, telling her he loved it and meaning it. He stepped back, hands dropping to his side and suddenly he was aware of her. All of her. How she smelled like the beach, how her hands felt on his back and how she held him, just for a moment as if it were permanent.
Back in the room with her he breathed deep, old cigar smoke and a solitary meal.
“I’m all out of candles.” He explained. “I never light them alone.”
The way the soft glow played across her delicate fingers watered his eyes a little. Never before had he seen a woman look so like an angel.
Her eyes never leaving him, she angled her head, just a bit to the right, her dimples dancing, not quite into a smile but almost.
“I can see it in you.” She said.
“See what?” He replied.
“Your soul.” She put her hand on his knee. “It’s still there.”
And suddenly he was far away, like Billy Pilgrim on his bookshelf, he became unstuck in time:
It was nineteen ninety two and Johnny had the covers pulled tight over his head but pulled down at his face so his right eye and nose were exposed to the chilly air. He always went to bed at this awkward angle, head arched toward the window at the far end of the room.
A couple of months prior it had been Halloween and while all the adults played adult games upstairs, Johnny and the rest of the kids had been relegated to the basement to play floor hockey and watch Disney movies. Johnny had been getting set for his turn as goalie as the light from upstairs was broken by the descending frame of one of the Older Kids. For some reason they were given the freedom to go from upstairs to downstairs without any ramifications or loaded looks and Johnny envied them terribly for it. This particular Older Kid was named “Eric” and more than any other Older Kid his pimple ridden and bespectacled visage struck fear into the heart of Johnny. In his hand he held a VHS copy of “Bambi” and on his face he wore his best shit eating grin. “You kids ready for some riveting entertainment?” He said.
“What are we watching?” Johnny asked.
“But I’ve already seen that one—“
“Shut up, Johnny. You haven’t seen anything like this, I promise.” He popped the tape into the machine. “Enjoy.”
And with that he was off. His bedroom door closed and “The Offspring” blaring from the caverns of his bedroom. Johnny and his friend went back to playing floor hockey until the opening music started up, the sharp strings and haunting melody quickly told them that this was not Bambi.
Thus was Johnny introduced to “The Banshee”. He couldn’t take his eyes off of it, in a daze he removed his goalie pads and sat himself in front of the ever changing muted color pattern of his first ever horror movie. The demon Banshee was the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen. A creature that, upon hearing one of it’s shrieks, would turn you stone. It wasn’t the creature itself that scared him it was how helpless everyone was against it. How did a seven year old kid protect himself against a Banshee?
He didn’t know a lot but he knew two things:
1) He loved hockey and he wanted to be Wayne Gretzky when he grew up.
2) Banshees are terrible horror demons who will kill you before you fall asleep if you’re not careful so you must be vigilant in all the moments before you fall asleep lest you be turned to stone.
And this is how he found himself, fighting back tears, eyes glued onto the window at the end of his room, just waiting for the Banshee to appear and turn him to stone with her terrible shriek. He clutched his teddy bear “Tough Eddie” tightly. Of all of his stuffed animals he was the biggest, the enforcer of the bunch and although even “Tough-E” couldn’t protect him from a Banshee, Johnny felt he’d at least die trying and that was some small comfort. Just at the moment the tears threatened to overtake him, at the second he was about to be swallowed by the sheer authenticity of a child’s imagination, a light played across his face, followed by the soft creak of his bedroom door.
“Honey?” His mother’s voice asked.
“Uh huh?” He replied in his most “I’ve been a good boy and have definitely been sleeping” voice.
“You don’t sound asleep.”
He knew this was a trap, having revealed that he was in fact awake but he was too scared not to say anything:
“I was asleep.”
His mother walked into the room, sitting down on the bed beside him. She’d worked a double shift that day, he could smell the hospital on her, somehow the scent of sterilizer and that horrible pink soap comforted him. Those scents were her. Those scents were home.
She brushed his face with her hand, “You scared again?”
She smiled. “It’s ok to be scared, Honey.”
“Is it the Banshee?”
At the mention of the ancient Celtic Demon’s name he couldn’t help but tremble.
“What if she steals my soul?” He asked.
To his surprise, his mother laughed. “Honey, a Banshee might turn you to stone, but she could never steal your soul. See, your soul isn’t part of your body. It’s this infinite thing—do you know what infinite means?”
“That’s right.” She smiled, “Such a smart boy.”
And it made him so happy to hear her say that.
“Your soul is older than you. It’s older than me. You see, one day you’ll learn that we’re all made of matter, and matter can’t be created or destroyed. Matter is what gives us weight, you see?”
“But when a person dies, or is turned to stone by a Banshee, they lose twenty one grams. Do you know what those twenty one grams are?”
He shook his head, “No.”
“They’re your soul. And when you die your soul whooshes out of you and flies all the way up to heaven and there God says, ‘Welcome, you’re home.’ and until that moment happens your soul is never ending and nothing ever can diminish it or take it away from you. Not people, not Banshees, not monsters, not anything. You understand?”
He nodded sagely, “I understand.”
“You think you can go to sleep now?” She asked.
He regarded her gravely, “I think I can, yes.”
She kissed him on the cheek, the scent of the hospital filling him and he had never felt so safe and so loved for he knew that his soul was infinite and nothing could ever take that away.
And with that he was back inside himself. There in the year two thousand and fifteen, looking deep in to Andrea’s eyes.
“You sure?” He asked.
“Positive.” She replied.
He kissed her then, eyes closed and for the first time, marveling all the while at how these great loves, no matter how new could remind you of who you were, back when you were whole.
“So much of all of this is timing.” She said, rekindling his soul.
Out of breath he prayed that time be on their side.
He kissed her again.
Thank you all so much for coming along this sixteen part journey, the readership has been consistent and amazing. Though this trip down a poetic memory lane has been wonderful and extremely nostalgic, I’m also very much looking forward to putting up a few new poems I’ve finished over the past couple of weeks. So stay tuned, follow and share. It’s so appreciated.
“Sunshine and Lonesome: Love Poems From a Roller Coaster”
leaving an empty room,
save the leftovers,
your socks that look like mine.
with tears in the morning
wake to the hard reality
no longer in my life,
first and finally
carried a torch,
never open and broken.
your inexplicable magic,
for the first time,
I find myself
over a pillow,
end of a letter,
never quite ending
face to face,