Where the Wild Things Grow

Where the Wild Things Grow
By Israfel Sivad

There’s a garden in the middle of the city
where we planted a tree outside my window.
I had poetry boiling in my soul,
I needed a shot of rock n roll:

A vampiric lover who ain’t afraid of the cross…
Honey, I’m the living dead. What’s suffering to be afraid of?
I think I’ll take you to where the wild things grow.

Come here, sweet thing.
I want to suck your blood.
I need a belly full of loving.
I’m gonna feast on you.

Why don’t you slip on inside
by that door there by the side.
Invite me back into your life.
Pretend like you’re Janis Joplin,
and let me get down on you.

I was speaking to your daddy.
He told me a secret I shouldn’t tell.
He told me how much you like to fuck.
I never knew that he ever knew.
I figured he was too drunk to care,
but then, he said he lost his virginity to you.

I want to tell you a secret now:
I’m a battered lover.
My face is all black n blue,
but if you ever ask me,
I’ll tell you I fell down the stairs.

Nobody ever molested me.
Maybe, they were all too scared.
I had to destroy myself.
Now, I’m bringing my disease back home to you.

These people need help.
I can hear them cry:
“Save us! Save us, please!
We forgot how to sing the blues.”
And I whisper that they need to save themselves.

Before you can learn to sing the blues,
you have to learn how to fall in love.
Now sing:  Baby, baby, help me please!
I’m crying down here on my knees.
Just one touch would heal me.
I’ll wait, though, if that’s what you need.

I saw God. He didn’t exist.
The devil is real, though. He ain’t no myth.
Did I introduce you to my dad?
I just cooked him up.
Would you like to eat his body?
Would you like to drink his blood?
Go ahead, everybody else does.

But maybe, if you’re real sweet,
instead, I’ll let you feast on me:
A walking STD, but you still want to love me.
Let me hook you up with my HIV.
I’ll condemn you to eternal life.
I lie, but the myths are what life’s all about.

And I’ve been lying this way for forever.
It keeps me all twisted up inside.
If you would just pay attention to truth,
I could speak it to you.
This here is my blues:

Did I tell you I’m schizophrenic?
The jackals want my soul.
They’re not content to eat my body.
They want to dine upon my soul.

I’m always in prison.
I can never be free,
not until she marries me.

Smash out all the windows.
There’s nothing outside to see.

Come here, watch the wild things grow with me.

Poem written and spoken by Israfel Sivad from his collection: The Tree Outside My Window available at amazon.com/author/israfel-sivad
Original vocal track recorded and produced by Jason Koepke jasonkoepke.com
Music written, recorded and produced by gn0m0n
Thumbnail: “First One to Go” by Rogelio Ronco: rogelioronco.com/

There Was No Need for Symbolization

Yesterday, I didn’t know what to do. The unemployment’s starting to get to me. It’s the days. They wind on while I sit in my apartment looking for jobs, working on this, reading books and watching movies on Netflix. It’s gotten to be too much. I took the Metro down to Farragut West and dropped off the checks for my old 401(k) with some online brokers to deposit in the new IRAs I’ve opened to avoid paying taxes on my miniscule retirement funds. On the way back, I realized I was passing through the Smithsonian stop, and I decided to get off the train.

Above ground, on the National Mall, I got a call from some recruiter out in Tyson’s Corner. She wouldn’t even tell me what the job was she was calling me about. I told her I’d be more than willing to meet with her hiring manager, but I needed to know what position they were offering. “I have very specific financial and career goals in mind,” I told her, which I do. Even though, that’s hard for me to believe, too. But she simply kept repeating they had multiple positions open. I sat down on a bench. By the time she finally hung up on me, I realized I was sitting right outside the Freer Gallery. Sitting still for a moment, staring at the green bushes budding with remnants of DC’s recent rain, I took a few more puffs off the vaporizer I’d bought the day I lost my job – it’s kept me cigarette-free for almost a month now, and I decided to go into the Freer to contemplate the cultural intricacies of Asian art in the United States.

The gallery I wound up in was filled with a historical collection of Chinese screens. My grandmother in California has always loved those artifacts while I’ve conceitedly taken them for granted as simple, decorative art – nothing worthy of study. But in this setting, with the museum curator’s write-ups adorning the walls, I paused. Remembering my previous unemployment in DC, I reminded myself this was the only chance I would ever have to appreciate this moment, and I wanted to make the most of that realization.

Screens conceal. They rearrange to conceal another space in a different place. In Japan, during Heian times, they were the formidable opponent every man had to overcome to discover his hidden desires. I wasn’t sure whether or not China possessed that same history, but I recalled this lecture a professor from my first master’s degree gave to our Literary Chinese class. While we were discussing a poem, he asked if any of us noticed anything odd about that particular piece. We pointed out the poet’s use of this or that character, but he said that wasn’t quite what he was looking for. He asked if we noticed any symbolism in the poem. The students, myself included, scrambled to see what wasn’t there. “There’s no symbolism in that poem because China, at that point in time, didn’t need any symbolism,” the professor said. “It’s simple,” he went on to our incredulous looks, “If there are no cultural taboos, there’s nothing to hide. If there’s nothing to hide, there’s no need to symbolize.

With my former professor’s ideas ringing through my mind, I stepped up to examine the intricate paintings decorating this selection of historically significant screens. The line work was so subtly ornate. There was motion in the tree branches, sound in the rushing waters and stolidity in the rock faces. Aware of Japan’s early respect for all things Chinese, I realized the paintings on these screens were probably the origins of the artistic traditions that have eventually culminated in Japanime during my own lifetime. These images, animated, created something like Ghost in the Shell or Akira – movies so influential on my American collegiate life of the late 1990s. No artistic tradition exists within a vacuum. Everything has to be learned somewhere.

Staring at those natural scenes of flowing waterfalls and stiff ridges, I imagined myself a wealthy merchant in 16th century Beijing, the Ming Dynasty’s bustling capital for the Middle Kingdom, what we today call China. I saw my daily cares there as not so different from my own here in DC, from my dad’s during his lifetime in Southern California. I remembered a painting my dad had had hanging in his living room back then. It had been a painting of a red brick wall outlining a lone window. Drapes billowed out that window. I’d always imagined it as being somewhere in Europe, maybe in Venice. My dad had always said what he liked so much about that painting was its implication. There was a cat sitting alone on the sill, and my dad had often told me he wondered what was going on behind that window, in the room he and I couldn’t see. It wasn’t a great painting, but it always made me think.

These screens were like that painting in my dad’s living room, and the wealthy Chinese merchant I imagined myself to be appreciated them in the same way. Escaping the bustle of the city’s marketplace, I retreated to the sanctity of my own home, but the nature I visited on those screens transported me to another location. My walls evaporated. Mountain breezes blew between the woods’ earthen scent. Punctuating the birds’ high cries, a waterfall crashed in the distance. No, there was no need for symbolization. Just like this project I’m working on right now, those screens contained everything they actually were.

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The Hallowed Halls of Academia

The Hallowed Halls of Academia
By Israfel Sivad

What did you say,
you hallowed halls of academia?
That our questions were mere
blasphemies?

Is that what you would say to us,

teach to us, your servants,
faithful and true, respecting
you and the order
you would teach?

Our reply is to challenge.

And if you reject us
yet again, we will move
our operation
underground.

Listen to me. All of you listen:

There are two people
who write for me,
but I can’t tell
you their names.

They are my secret yin and yang.

There are two people
who sleep with me.
They are my Lilith
and my Eve,

to me, Adam, the serpent, the man, Satan.

I thought I was alone,
but there is a harem,
a lion’s den of
men and women

reclining against my breast.

We are cultural aberrations,
hermaphrodites if
we chose to be.
Blasphemy?

We have not yet begun to blaspheme.

Poem written and spoken by Israfel Sivad from his collection The Tree Outside My Window available here.
Original vocal tracks recorded and produced by Jason Koepke.
Music composed by Reify
Thumbnail: “Let Them Eat Cake” by Alex Barry.

Nobody Had Ever Written a Poem for Her Before

The last time I was unemployed in Washington, DC, I had a girlfriend as well – Ariel. But things were so different for me back then. I was 30 years old. Ariel was getting ready to head back to grad school in International Development at Columbia University. I decided I wanted to go back to school, too.

I’d been having dreams back then I’d relapsed and gotten drunk during my senior year of college. In my dreams, I’d never finished school, which hadn’t actually happened. But dreams were very influential on me in those bygone days. I took it as a sign from the universe. My education was incomplete. I’d been looking into grad programs in DC even before I’d gotten laid off from my job. My GRE scores were still good from when I’d taken them after my first breakdown. Back then, I simply wanted out of Richmond again. When I didn’t get into any of the creative writing programs I’d applied to, I became extremely discouraged. This time, I was thinking about creative writing again, but I was open to other possibilities as well.

The theory of evolution didn’t make much sense to me anymore. I’d bought a book by the paleontologist Richard Leakey about it, but that didn’t help. His mother was part of the team that had discovered Lucy, the oldest primate humanity yet knew about, and his theories of our ancestry were intriguing. Coupling his research with other things I was thinking about in those days, I wondered a lot about what he had to say concerning primate size discrepancies and their effects on societal gender roles.

According to Mr. Leakey, when a male primate is approximately twice the size of the female, such as in a baboon tribe, the society organizes around a strong alpha male who banishes the other males from his harem. The smaller males who leave their tribes attempt to form cohesive family units of their own. These smaller baboons try their utmost to pull attractive females away from neighboring tribes, and the successful seductions of other alpha males’ mates keeps the gene pool differentiated. During psychosis, that’s how I’d always assumed human society had organized itself.

However, when the female primate is approximately two thirds the size of the male, such as in chimpanzees, the society organizes around a band of brothers. These genetically related males trade their sisters between tribes in order to keep their families’ gene pools fresh. Humans have a size differential more akin to chimpanzees. So I wondered… If you were to institutionalize this “band of brothers,” if the males of a primate species were self-aware enough to realize that by trading their sisters they could increase the size and strength of their brotherhood, thus increasing their familial power’s scope, then you might wind up with something approximating the contemporary patriarchy. Despite what I was then reading in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, another book I’d chosen to tackle at that moment, that made me wonder how deep into primordial, human psychology contemporary gender roles actually dwelt. Maybe there were as many relationships to sexuality as there were people on this planet, but maybe there was also something biological about what we were all railing against. Truth be told, there’s nothing unnatural about this world.

I was walking dogs back then to pull in some extra cash, and after finishing my canine strolls through Mount Pleasant every single day, I went down to The National Museum of Natural History. I’d started at the first exhibit on the first floor and was slowly working my way up reading every single placard on every single item. I studied the theoretical formation of our solar system, the foundations of our geology, the intricacies of vegetable and animal biology and the subtleties of our sociological structures. It took me nearly a week to complete the entire museum, but nothing helped me make any more sense out of our contemporary explanations for biological life than anything else. I was so confused.

Darwin had missed something in his theory. Evolution itself necessitated an intelligence governing it. Everybody else disagreed with me. They reminded me Darwin’s theory went along the lines that life simply strove for survival, and therefore, the most positively adaptable organism would triumph. That being would then adapt to conditions allowing its lineage to be passed on to its offspring. Nothing other than environmental conditions caused the offspring to evolve. There was no reason governing these variations. There were only the many vicissitudes of survival. But why survive? The mere notion of survival itself constituted a type of drive, and a drive implied an intention, a sort of intelligence. There was no reason for survival as opposed to annihilation. Why would this dead universe even bother choosing to survive? It’s not that I thought Darwin was wrong. I simply thought he’d overlooked something, and we were trapped in a simplified view of the subject.

Maybe I was looking at life from the wrong angle.

One night, I woke up early in the morning from one of those dreams you know means something, but you can’t figure out what that could possibly be. Outside, the sun was just starting to rise. Purple light glowed throughout the District. I walked from my then basement apartment on Lamont Street in Mount Pleasant down to The Diner in Adams-Morgan. I bought a fresh pack of cigarettes along the way, and I chain-smoked until the moment I entered that restaurant. I was trying to quit smoking even all the way back then.

Over a cup of coffee with bacon and eggs, I contemplated all the jobs I’d been applying to – marketing, advertising, journalism – all across the country, and I realized I didn’t want any of them. I didn’t want to work. Instead, I pictured myself a student discussing with contemporaries and peers philosophy like Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Not too many people read philosophy for fun. That was when I decided I’d only apply for jobs I wasn’t qualified for simply to satisfy the requirements to continue collecting unemployment. If I was careful, I could string out what I was pulling in until right around when the school year started again. I’d missed most of the application deadlines, but I knew about this Asian Classics program out in Santa Fe that had rolling admissions. And the program itself was only a year long. I could do that, take a year, live somewhere I’d never been before, read a ton of books I’d never been exposed to before and then go study whatever I wanted – philosophy, creative writing, anything. I pictured myself strolling around some academic enclave, writing poetry and stories in my spare time and living a pleasantly crazy life.

Maybe that’s exactly what happened. I’m not really sure.

Ariel and I eventually said our goodbyes after visiting her parents’ home in Connecticut. It was the first time I’d ever met them. She was getting ready to head down to an apartment she’d already rented for herself on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I was to fly out to Southern California, to pick up that car that eventually took me all the way back across the country. Her father rented a black limousine to drive me out to the airport. Ariel came with me. She was going to catch the subway up from LaGuardia to her new home.

The whole ride down, we didn’t say a word. Ariel held onto my hand and leaned into my shoulder. I stared out my window at the green countryside rolling past. The driver kept trying to start up some conversation, but it was obvious neither of his passengers had anything worthwhile to say. We were lost in our own reflective musings. As we pulled into the outskirts of the city and continued on our way through Queens, the world began moving too fast to keep up with any longer.

In the airport’s offloading zone, amid the robotic announcements resonating overhead, Ariel held onto me. Setting my bags to the side, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. As the tears streamed down her cheeks, though, I wiped them away. I said, “Don’t be scared. We’ll see each other again,” which we did. But things were so amazingly different by then…

I’d composed a poem for her I gave her on a handwritten piece of lined paper. I’d written it in my head one evening as I’d strolled down Connecticut Avenue, recalling a misunderstanding she and I had had once upon a time. It was an apology. Nobody had ever written a poem for her before she told me. Maybe she still has it. Maybe she doesn’t. She’s getting married soon I just discovered on Facebook. I’m happy for her. It wasn’t until I finally sat down on my seat in the plane, when I looked out the window at the dismal runway, I remembered all those times I’d said goodbye to my father, all those years ago, all the way across the country… I started to cry. For the first time in years about how love never remains.

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The Jungle

Taurus

The Jungle
By Israfel Sivad

More muscular and aggressive,
this is the time of our lives.
Our bones are thicker, our feet –
larger.  Our necks won’t keep us
from the front line any longer.

Our eyes are armored.  Our manes
are black and mature.  Your music
has grown flat; we’re blind to the
birth of your Lord.  Move to provoke
us again, you who slaughtered our children.

In Sumer, we reached maturity.  Prehistoric
peoples merged themselves with us, turned
us to the steeds for 18 of your gods.  We
despise your superior attitudes.  Equanimity
lies in our souls, which is why we beg
your mother for forgiveness, offer
her first-born our most prized possessions.

Not even the serpent’s poison could
destroy us.  We are your kings after
death, alive inside their hearts and minds.
The sun itself shines from our music,
the wings of our third eyes, our tongues.

Once upon a time, we led you
through the desert to be abandoned.
But we are jealous gods, punishing
gods who will visit the sins of the
Fathers upon their sons in the jungle.

For more of Israfel Sivad’s poems, please go to: amazon.com/author/israfel-sivad

Love

Love
By Israfel Sivad

I love my pain.
It keeps me strong.
It keeps me whole.
You can’t have it!

I will never give
what makes me ache,
my heartbreak, to you.
I am the sum of my pain.

Do you understand?
I don’t think you do.
I tried telling you,
but you won’t listen.

I think I’ll have to kill you.

I hung your painting on my wall.
It’s sickly, with five forest rectangles
spaced throughout. Two make eyes.
One is a nose. The others – a mouth.
It’s a crooked face. The paint fades out.

It looks an awful lot like me.

I’m going to take your painting
off my wall. Spit on it. Kick it.
When it won’t break, I’ll use this knife.
Watch the canvas flutter out the window,
a wounded bird crashing down

to the street where it hits the ground.

Do you see your soul ripped apart,
glistening spit in the gutter?
A man picked it up, dusted it off.
There was nothing to save. He threw it away.
Are you happy now? I gave you my pain.

Poem written and spoken by Israfel Sivad from his collection The Tree Outside My Window available here.
Music composed, arranged, and produced by Nanook Sputnik
Thumbnail: Digital drawing by Rogelio Ronco.

Posters

 

Posters
By Israfel Sivad

You’re a poster, child…
Explosions, bodies, the stench.
Somebody wants to kill you,
and that’s not very funny.
It’s not funny at all.

You’re a civilian, honey,
wrapped in red, white, and blue.
Red stands for nothing.
White melted blue. I’m nothing, too.
Melt me blue, through and through.

Do you feel madness, baby,
creeping into your mind?
Madness from frustration, anger,
the pain of something you did not do,
but that you did just the same.

We’re losing, my friend,
losing like you lost your mind.
Locked up in this place,
this apocalyptic state,
where all I can do is scream:
I’m through! I’m through!

Originally published on Poetry.com.
For more of Israfel Sivad’s writings, please click here.