TODAY I LEARNED THE WORD ‘PERMAFROST’ by Marc Alexander Valle

We do things to save our lives. 

Not real life. 

But ourselves. 

That little fire. 

The one you can see in a child’s smile and curiosity, picking up a rock and looking for a bug and wondering if every rock hides a bug and committing to the lifting of every rock until they find out for sure whether there is a bug under every rock or not.

That fire, that smile, that everything.

That fire started to die down in high school. 

Everything became a fog. 

Peers started dating and I didn’t have a clue, older brother started spending time with other friends, dad started yelling about my grades and how I was using my time, and the anxiety/depression started to take hold and take form. 

Everything I thought was real was crumbling. 

So I wrote. 

And all of it was bad. At first, it was bad writing for bad screenplays. Then bad poems and bad essays and bad plays and bad stories, all of them taking me now where.  

But I saved my life. Not my real life. But my life.

Over and over again I did it. Like a lighthouse fueled by imagination. I did it over and over again. That fire. That smile. Over and over again. Each strike of the pen, more exciting than a first date and more satisfying than hitting back the school yard bully. Again and again. And one day I stopped writing nothing but crap, and one day I found my voice. And the real voice of anyone of us is the voice of the Universe, using us to find its place in this world. 

Sometimes I get lonely and think most people just let that blaze die and this is how the world works. The schools and the streets and the bars and the workplace flowed with enough booze, gossip, dental benefits and Sunday football to make people forget they ever had an inferno inside. 

But the fire is warm and the fire is burning white birch and the fire is everything and outside the fire are the woods and the woods are the world and the eyes of the wolves can be seen hiding from the fire and the people of the world can be heard screaming and laughing out in the woodland darkness.  

The burning wood collapses and draws my attention back to the blaze, and I forget about the deep tundra outside the circle of light. I look into the coals at the bottom of the pit and know that I am warm. For now. And it’s everything to be warm. For now.

by Marc Alexander Valle

The Barbed Throne: A Poem by Marc Alexander Valle

THE BARBED THRONE

by Marc Alexander Valle

Verbalization is the key. Mostly in your own head, verbalization is the key. Just say it. 

Yes. No. Maybe. Please. Thank you, God. Help me. 

Verbalization is helping oneself, the ability to formulate the right words, at least in between your own ears. It’s equivalent to moving a mountain, and it’s equivalent to knocking the gods right on their backs. 

Verbalization is the first step. It’s not baby turning over. It’s not baby crawling. It’s not baby walking. But baby crying. Right outside the womb, doctor holding our legs, upside down, covered in mother’s fluids, we tell the world we are here and we need to be heard. But somewhere along the line, we lose the ability to express something so basic, so fundamental. Our pain. Our suffering. People stop listening and we stop reaching. Things get shoved into dark rooms. 

Verbalization is resurfacing. It’s the air and the sun above the bottom of the pool when your friends told you to hold your breath underwater as long as you could and you stayed there as long as you could because you wanted to prove them wrong, only to discover that you were the one that was wrong and if you stay underwater any longer, you will die. There is no shame in the words. Verbalization is the texture of the world.

There are those who do not have the words and hurt other people. Not because they’re bad with words, but because it hurts too much to say what hurts and why. 

Many of those people have hurt me and have hurt others and have hurt you. And I’m not asking for you to forgive them. 

But imagine a world where you never found those words. Who would you be? How long could you last in those woods?

Yes. No. Maybe. Please. Thank you, God. Help me.

And I’m always left with the cinematic image of the soldier that came back from war, locked into his body, blind and deaf with no arms and no legs and no ability to express the nightmares in his head and maybe sometimes the beauty. And I cry not for him, but for me. That is me. That has always been me in pitch black with only the words. The words. The vague, the jagged, the crystalline, the deep-seated words. 

Can you make peace with only the words? 

And was there ever a moment of silence?

by Marc Alexander Valle

The Gordian Face: A Poem

THE GORDIAN FACE

by Marc Alexander Valle

Who are you? Can you tell me in a paragraph? I’m being generous and giving you a paragraph. Or is a paragraph too much? Would limiting you to a word or sentence, allow you to be more concise? Would that help? Or do you need a novel? Do you need plot and characters and action and reaction and every tool in storytelling to paint a picture? Would that aptly summarize you as a living being? Or maybe your definition should include body language. You could say something that could be misinterpreted, but because you smiled and nodded your head, I might more likely feel that you meant something deeper. Or maybe you could be tested by behavior. Maybe you could react to a hypothetical situation where you could make the wrong choice and get rewarded with your wildest dream and get away with it, or you could do the right thing and no one would notice. Would you be comfortable with that form of testing? You would never know when it’s going to happen to you. That would insure the validity of the test. Thirty years from now, maybe? Would you be at ease with that? Or maybe I’ll just ask people that interacted with you. Your mother. Your father. Your neighbor. Your friends. All your friends. Every single friend. Despite the circumstances. Despite the last word or two you had with each other. Would you have any objections to that?

But what if I gave you the power to choose? From the one sentence summary to the interviews to artificial intelligence systems that analyze every breath of your life. Take your pick. It’s your life. It’s your choice. How do you choose? How do you wish to measure your existence? But know that your choice will help in revealing who you are. It’s inescapable, isn’t it? We leave an imprint no matter how gentle we walk on the sand. And those who walk gently, thinking they will leave no trace are fools. And those who stomp quickly, thinking it makes no difference miss the point. Who are you? I want to know. I’ve always wanted to know who’s really who. How about you? 

by Marc Alexander Valle

©2020

The Olive Tree by Marc Alexander Valle

This piece was first published in NortheastPoetry Review 2020

The Olive Tree

I had a roommate in college that couldn’t understand it. His name was Frank and he’d walk in the room and find me sitting in bed, staring at the ceiling and the wall. He’d say, “How come you’re always just looking at the wall when I come in?” I wanted to tell him that I was actually staring at the corner between the ceiling and the wall, but I thought it wouldn’t matter. So I’d say nothing back.

I didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t understand it myself back then. I would just lie there and think. In those years, I daydreamed a lot and I’d get very depressed, so it was probably a bit of both. But it really seemed to bother him on some level. It was the way he’d say it. Not with malice, but not jokingly either. Like he’d caught someone smelling their own underwear. In time, whenever I heard him approaching the door, I’d sit up and find something to do in order to look occupied.

Living with others forces us to be more self-conscious in a very uncomfortable way. Even if ‘living’ means living on Earth with co-workers and classmates and family and friends. We still have to walk on eggshells and look into what we think are other people’s mirrors. Even if it’s for a second. What a horrible encounter.  

I sat my ass in a nice chair today for 40 minutes with a cup of tea and stared at the wall, half-thinking and half-not-thinking at all. I hadn’t done that in a very long time. And when I did get to thinking, I finally thought of Frank and what he would say if somehow he walked in the room. Then it all came to me like a wild horse over a razor edge sand dune. Frank just didn’t understand. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I exhaled and picked up my tea. A few drops pooled at the bottom. I lifted the cup and tilted it toward my mouth. I could taste one sweet drop, and I swallowed it down.

Sometimes the one thing harder than life itself is picking the right place to just sit. 

With or without a ceiling or a wall.

Hero with a Thousand Bits by Marc Alexander Valle

I only ever met one kind of prophet in my life.

The older kid at the arcade that could beat the game in a handful of quarters.

He took us to the promised land of closing scenes and end credits.

I met him again today.

He’s bald and fat and has four girls in their teens.

They just kept playing on their phone as he asked what topping they wanted on their pizza.

I wanted to tell those kids that games, like those on their phones, filled a store-sized room at the mall.

That their father could dodge bullets, high kick thugs, out run cops, fight off aliens, save the princess and come back to life before his mom came to pick him up.

All the kids and teens in that room stood behind their dad, holding their breath and cursing in between.

The Indiana Joystick of flipping burgers.

But every now and then he’d get a day off from the hamburger stand, and fulfill his obligation to show us the way.

He exited the pizza shop with his girls and pulled a parking ticket from under his windshield wiper.

Not enough time on the parking meter.

He ran out of quarters.

Marc Alexander Valle ©2019

The Santa Poem by Marc Alexander Valle

(Feedback is welcome)

The Santa Poem

My brother told me that Santa doesn’t exist. He showed me where all the gifts were stashed. G.I. Joes were everywhere. I felt a thrill throughout my body. Finding that Santa doesn’t exist is a double-edged sword. Your childhood is almost over, but now you have the advantage in gift begging. You can manipulate your parents into getting you what you want, and now you have someone to blame when you don’t get it. I’ll probably lie to my kids about Santa if I ever have any. When they find the gift stash, I’ll still lie to them. One Christmas, our dad made us leave a can of beer for Santa. He said that he wanted to see if Santa would drink it. The can was empty in the morning.

Human Anagram: A Poem by Marc Alexander Valle

Human Anagram

by Marc Alexander Valle

Nice, quiet, smart.

People have told me this all my life. I don’t know how I feel about those words anymore. I used to hate them, but I think I’m making peace with the fact that I’ll never really get to shake them off.

Nice, quiet, smart. A combination that makes me a rare bird in this world.

Why do we hate being different when we’re younger?

Why do we need so much of the three A’s–acceptance, approval, admiration?

Why does it take so long to get to yourself when you have to live with yourself every day anyway?

The rare bird has few avian friends, but people love him and put him on stamps.

Now I just tried to make a metaphor where birds represent people, but I couldn’t figure what actual people represent in that particular metaphor. I cringed at every possibility, thinking of what readers would think of my writing. So I guess I’m not that rare a bird that embraces its uniqueness yet. I don’t know if we ever really get there in mid-life.

But wouldn’t that be cool to be on a stamp?