unemployment – a poem

each day consists of hours slept 
circadian rhythm is irrelevant 
the pill in the mouth demarcates time
all else barely has meaning
read the same lines over again
try to write something forgotten from memory
can't remember the passwords to old accounts
long in dormancy dusty from neglect
the agoraphobic's excuse for once again
canceling appointments
the warm fuzz of feigned ignorance 
and its protective powers  
avoid the bathroom mirror 
avoid phone calls 
avoid anything that threatens
this solipsistic universe
impossible ventures 
must substitute for hope
unrealistic notions of artistry
won't pay the bills
there is time for laughing
but that time is not now
now is for wondering
where the next smoke is coming from 
it's like a depression
desperation and green eyes 
'cept more anxiety faster blood 
the shackles and chains similar but not the same 
wed the two together
and i've an eternity of dark rooms
blankets to lie in shame 
for what else does unemployment conjure?
i hear the children 
doing their homework
see the wife on the phone with colleagues
even the cats have mice to catch
to each a purpose 
mine is to water a perpetual bog and sink
to bide time until homelessness seems reasonable 
how much can i carry on my back?
unemployment is sin
it is defilement 
this is how i'm supposed to feel 
and i have no alternative to it
even avoid my image in dream 
shame is logical it is reasonable 
it knows no defense 
unemployment transcends cultures
universally understood as divergent 
what person who doesn't work
has value anywhere on earth? 
down to the last light bulb 
candle light will have to do 
at least the warm glow might distract 
from the end of the month
unemployment is 
it is a clock with no hands
it is the quiet erosion of a hill
down into a freezing stream
it is a manual no one reads
it is the slipping away of sanity

21 haiku for mediocrity – poems

do you hear that sound
scratching at the front doorstep
someone's listening
sun melts the snow frost
icicles fall from the roof
change is obvious
she stands on the porch
back turned the sun in her eyes
she is blind to me
words without contents or thought
not worth the reading
cat's taken the couch
sun beam stripe across her fur
she'll move when she feels
hungry for things lost
in a desert universe
nothing to be found
ice forms on snow banks
the wind pushes resistance
he will be dead soon
inside the warm house
where heat comes up from the floor
a heart still freezes
a bodhisattva
is an enlightened being
who lives in your room
the year of the ox
the chinese new year wasted
on this old codger
pink and green mountains
purple sagebrush and cactus
this was once my home
nature is a farce
played on the innocent ones
you know who i mean
five syllables damn
seven is not much better
who has time for more
the ghost in my room
weeps for a life long over
we have the same smile
the goddess blesses
everything that she sees
especially me
when i set spiders
outside in the winter cold
do they want back in
why do old poets
write of the seasons changes
where are they going
lust is merely form
to which we are so attached
form is emptiness
the germanic tongue
is won by time and patience
a little won't do
music that makes tears
is to be avoidable fast
the pain's too intense
pixelated lust
reality on steroids
knows nothing but truth

naming the apparition – a poem

it is right 
that we name the apparitions amongst us
we are of language 
naming things gives us power
an act of creation 
based on the times she calls and things she does
i've been calling her molly
how cliché to say she only comes at night
but she prefers quietude and slowness
soft bodhisattva candle light 
and the moon in all its phases
she takes to deliberate time
the heaviness of early morning hours 
even a midnight rain does not hinder
her visitations 
the atonal tapping of drops camouflaging her steps
she seems to hover around the image of guanyin
goddess of compassion
with reverence
i think i caught her shadow bowing
i like to think it resonates with her nature
or perhaps she merely appreciates the art
she wastes no time under bed or in the closest
she is no spook
no jump scares
but a curious pedestrian drifting thru 
a lonely man's finite existence
i hear her in the other room 
examining the instruments
she's particularly found of the contrabass
she lightly wafts a finger across the d string
only once did she drop a book from the shelf
this was before i named her
before she had my full attention 
she was a bit precocious then
a child in need of affection 
contrary to popular belief 
the cats don't seem to sense her
or if they do
they are comfortable with her abiding
i've felt her enter the room with boots on
while a cat on the bed sleeps
once the cat even began to purr
as if molly were stroking her back 
after i named her
molly began to fall in line as a creation
her behavior became consistent 
her visitations regular 
she found a personality that she felt comfortable displaying
before her christening she was not wild
but unpredictable yes
sometimes going downstairs to the living room
to rustle the potted plants 
or play with the children's toys
barking dogs and crying dolls
she is no longer tempted by such things
molly is not so much a finite ghost 
but more of a vibration a vapor
a frequency of love and wait and time
when she comes i feel unlocalized comfort
a warm body to sleep next to
she is a web of expectation and dread
yes dread
for her ghostly being is intrinsically transient 
she cannot remain for as long as she'd like
for as long as i'd prefer
i don't believe she knows where she's going
after her spectral karma runs out
she might return as a human or a goddess 
perhaps she'll reach the pure land directly
or she could join her hungry brethren 
in the ghost realm below 
insatiable greed her only companion 
once she sat on the bed and stroked my hair
as the dreams of past lives bombarded me
she knows when disturbances come
brushes them away like wrinkles in the sheets
she whispered in my ear then 
no words
merely an open mouthed ah 
my body tingled pins and needles from head to toe
this was not done out of malice or whimsy
but compassion
physical love i've not experienced 
since the disturbances began
i'd let her engulf me if i could
her name has given her stability of being
perhaps it has reified that which shouldn't have been 
now she haunts only my room and the adjacent
she leaves the girls downstairs alone
to name a thing is not to know it
i don't claim to understand all that she is
to name a thing is to recognize it 
as a separate phenomenon distinct and worthy 
of identifying
molly has taken on existence
grown fat with essence 
her ghostly bones and sinews hardening
soon i'll hear her fingers 
fondling the buddha statues coarsely 
feel change in the room's atmosphere 
when her shadow crosses the bed 
molly is a fiction i've spun out of need
who knows what her true identity was
before she transmigrated 
maybe her name is not even pronounceable to me
but i've fixed her ontology 
by donning her with a name 
she does not belong to me despite this
i must be prepared for the day she levitates
out of and beyond my room 
where i will lie still waiting in vain
until that day 
i will sit in this room and weep
as i do
knowing that molly attends me 
from just beyond the bodhisattva statue 
i will glorify the name of the apparition 
a simple two syllables

i have nothing to say – a poem

i have nothing to say
the words are spent
serpent's breath 
is heaven sent
i have nothing to say
i have nothing to do
everything's left undone
scattered on the floor
nothing lost or won
i have nothing to do
i have nothing to write
syllables already choked
coughed up in the sink
thinking i do not enough
i have nothing to write
i have nothing to wear
hoodie for two months 
stained socks and telekinesis 
couldn't outfit a thesis
i have nothing to wear
i have nothing to watch
entertainment's impossible now
brow furrowed constant 
images pass before the eye
i have nothing to watch
i have nothing to take
medicine cabinet's bare
gobbled up the lithium yesterday
not enough for the fray
i have nothing to take
i have nothing to keep
gave away my rags in the move
dog eared texts stilt up the bed
keeps me from sinking but
i have nothing to keep
i have nothing to buy
no trinket brings peace
a statue or enlightened one
no object of absolute worth
i have nothing to buy
i have nowhere to be
in cold or in shadow
no locos remaining 
nowhere that misses me
i have nowhere to be
i have nothing to sing
melody gargled and swallowed
leaving me parched
not a tone embarks
i have nothing to sing
i have no way to be
no form of static rest
being and becoming are void
renders me mute and dumb
i have no way to be
i have nothing to say
the words are spent
serpent's breath 
is heaven sent
i have nothing to say

why do we hide our meaning – a poem

why do we hide our meaning
behind the most obfuscating of language?
why do we use words like 'obfuscate'
when 'confusing' would be clearer?
why do we try to turn phrases
be cheeky with words and syntax
whom are we impressing 
why do we do this
what is the meaning we are hiding
if we have something to say
then why not just come out and say it
why do we tell stories then stories over stories
rendering all opaque vagueness 
if we feel so urgently that we sit down to 
write a poem 
do we want it to be understood 
do we want the reader to work 
if we write down exactly what we mean
have we broken some poetic law
a pact that affirms elusiveness 
is it possible not to use metaphor 
when writing of love blood and demons
can we actually mean 'demons' and have it
be believed? 
why do we hide our meaning
behind words like 'gossamer' and 'muslin' 
why do we speak in odd stanzas 
that have unspoken logic of their own 
why do we choose to write without rhythm
or just the opposite with rhythm and rhyme 
what kind of artifice of language do we construct
what is the point of painting a rock
then burying said rock
then pointing to said buried rock 
and asking to reader to start digging 
how quickly do we exasperate the reader
how quickly do they tire of the snipe hunt 
why can't we mean what we say and
say what we mean 
if feel like this violates poetics somewhere
why do we hide our meaning
behind flowers and snowfalls and ghosts
dying things and living things and 
things of purgatory in between
why do we reference without referral
why do we imply but not elicit 
how do we control our inspired meanings
without ever naming actors and agents 
if our poetry were so simplified 
that it could be 'understood' in a fell swoop
would we even bother to write anymore
is the fun in the hiding 
the puzzle making
the game of clever wordsmithery 
does poetry being comprehensible necessarily
mean it should also be simple 
certainly we can understand complex things
but should our poetry be complex
why do we hide our meaning
behind pronoun confusion and similes 
lack of adverbs and sparse punctuation 
even a regimented count of syllables
why do we let haiku or tanka dictate
what we think we want to say
who wants iambic pentameter 
to restrict our glorious message
why do we hide our meaning
in the evilest of ways
in plain sight
why not just say it
we should say it
and thereby kill all that is poetic
about poetry 

blood work – a poem

i roll up my hoodie sleeve
expose the veins too often plumbed 
she penetrates the skin
driving just deep enough to extract 
the crimson guard 
how many times have i sat here
open and flowing into test tubes
in passive search of the lithium
mixing with my blood 
on the tip of a needle
i become woozy no longer
nor do i winch from the prick
my blood is a psychiatric object
why should i mind 
it being taken from a flawed body?
the red elixir is taken back 
to the labs for further study
to pry apart the cells to find
the mood stabilizing force within
to read it for misbalance 
as she pulls out 
i must press a bit of cotton
on the wound applying pressure
while she whisks the sample away
to join a host of others awaiting trial
she fastens the cotton with medical tape
as if the open wound were gushing
she doesn't notice
that i only bleed on command
and only for her
my blood prognosticates 
tells future tales of instability
how ineffective the white powder salt 
dissolves into positive potential
how salty blood tastes defiled 
i roll down my sleeve 
she bids me good morning 
no pillow talk
it's just business 
the excavation of liquid resource
i stand to go 
look at her briefly
she now has something of mine
she cannot give back
i leave sober and hungry 
eager to replenish vitality 
by any means possible

bodhimanda – a poem

there are twenty three cheap buddhist images in my room
seven are of guanyin the bodhisattva of compassion
six are of amitabha the buddha of infinite life and light
four of shakyamunia buddha the fundamental teacher
two are of da shi zhi the bodhisattva of great strength manifested
two of the name "namo amituofo" in chinese
one of the buddhist dharma wheel 
each cost less than forty dollars respectively
what does one do with twenty three cheap buddhist images in a room?
one beholds each lotus platform or long stemmed lotus held 
one never forgets the muddy nature from which they grow towards enlightenment
one watches the hands in the meditative mudra folded casually in the lap
one imitates the mindfulness of practical equilibrium and stillness
one is inspired by the vases held in the bodhisattva's hand 
one knows the elixir therein relieves the suffering of those in stress
one sees the welcoming hand of amitabha as he opens the door to the pure land
one hears the whip of the guanyin's willow that bends but does not break
one recognizes the vertical line of the saving name of the buddha
one comprehends its power to extricate one from the cycle of reincarnation
but mostly 
one watches
one looks at the images
one tries to absorb their power and grace
one seeks union with these images and what they represent 
which is nothing short of enlightenment writ large in samsara
when my eyes fall upon guayin's image i am stunned that such a goddess
came to be here with me in my sad little room 
that she deigns to grace me with her presence and more still
that she blesses me guarantees me rebirth in sukavhati the land of ultimate bliss
although i've done nothing to deserve it outside of speaking her name
when my eyes fall upon amitabha's image i am reminded of his cosmic abode
so far away where the seeds that i sow now will take root 
ensuring the achievement of enlightenment in one lifetime 
and the journey begins here in my sad little room from this ikea bed
when my eyes fall upon shakyamuni's image i am taken back in time
to the historical buddha's age in nepal where from nothing he built the sangha
grew it into a world religion that somehow i of all people would come to know
an american of no consequence spending his days in europe 
surely these karmic forces cannot be denied
by surrounding myself with twenty three cheap buddhist images in my sad little room 
i create a bodhimanda, a place of enlightenment from which even i 
so insignificant and flawed 
will seek rebirth and an end to a kalpas old cycle of reincarnation
right here in this sad little room
next to my sleeping cat and grey felt slippers 
old blue and grey wardrobe and burned out light bulbs 
from my floor covered in dust dandruff and hair
at the door leading straight to the bathroom 
right next to the hanging scroll image of da shi zhi pusa the great enlightened being of the western three sages
next to the amitabha altar where the cat broke the incense holder weeks ago
at the guayin altar plastic flowers for an offering 
next to the guanyin statue colored in marker by my 1st grade daughter
if i cannot seek rebirth here amongst my twenty three buddhist images
and my meager piles of mundane stuff
then i cannot seek rebirth anywhere 
for this is where i live 
no sacred mountain temples or quiet monasteries 
no meditation retreats or nature reserves 
i live here 
amongst cat hair dirty socks and happy meal toys 
and this is why twenty three buddhist images adorn my surrounding
for the merit and virtue of my practice
whatever that might be
may it adorn the buddha's pure land
and the potential to see that glorious land begins now and here
twenty three is not an auspicious number in buddhism 
but for me in this sad little room 
twenty three is the number of compassion
and mindfulness
it is nothing short of the number of 

i think of the wendigo – a poem

snow piles up on the slanted roof window
reaching up to freeze the silver of sky left
inside there is dread that the outside will kill
outside is certain death 
so i remain on my bed looking out at crystalized white
i think of the wendigo
the algonquin winter monster
who symbolizes cannibalism and murder
wendigo psychosis is insatiable greed
and the fear that one becomes a cannibal 
craving human flesh
i think of this beast
from the comfort of a well tended hearth
cupboards stocked with provisions
even the driving snow beyond 
will not conjure the ghoul to invade our home
yet can i so easily deny the 
wendigo psychotic in me? 
do i not in times of strife crave human flesh
specifically mine?
to be devoured in effigy as a sacrifice 
to loved ones around me?
do i not embody insatiable greed 
when wanting my own flesh to rot 
the spectral pestilence of the skeletal ghost
when the winter's depression dictates
that i cannibalize myself 
eat my own flesh until there is nothing left
isn't self cannibalism also a cultural taboo
not to be crossed?
as the light wanes and the white turns to shadow
i hear the wind throw ice pellets against the pane
there are muffled voices outside
neighbors coming home
shoveling away paths from garage to doorstep
they too will sleep warmly tonight
the only monsters to fend off the stuff of dream
but little do they know that they share row house walls
with the abominable wendigo
whose avarice even now grows 
to metamorphic strengths 
a cold phantasm lurking in the trees 
famished and tired 
willing to go to any lengths to bring suffering to an end
not yours
but the wendigo's suffering to an end

how to tell friends i’m going back to the hospital – a poem

what to tell the remaining friends you've left
the ones not eroded away by mental illness's corrosion
what to tell them they bearers of good news 
that you're probably going back to the hospital
the projects they've lined up the success at work
the relationships they effortless groom 
even their critters are photographed smiling toothy grins
how do i tell them everything's gone to hell
they'll understand i tell myself they of all people must
the friendships have survived this much surely they can
survive a little more what have i to be afraid of
they haven't turned tail and run they've stayed they have
how do i walk out my latest shame 
do i sprinkle it with pixy dust gussy it up something 
dress it eccentrically give it a cutesy name
or do i let speak for itself speech impediment at all
do i describe it in all its gloom in all its macabre boredom
bedridden and dreamful over sixteen hours of unquiet sleep 
chained to the bed save for unsatisfying smokes on the balcony
pill organizer keeping track of the days dripped away slumber
do i not mention it at all the horrible word everything's fine
fine i said lie to myself lie to them everything's fine i said
pretend that i've just a bad cold a common thing under the weather
do i say nothing make no reply rather than lie to i simply say nothing
how to tell friends i'm going back to the hospital
if they're friends then this shouldn't be an issue
how to tell myself that i'm going back to the hospital
am i as forgiving as they

canceling another therapy appointment – a poem

snow was flaking like dandruff outside
good enough reason to cancel the therapy session
after all
therapy was supposed to benefit 
my mental health
not waterlog it 
send it listing portside
because of the weather, then
this would be my reason today 
i would have to invent a new one in
two weeks time
it wasn't my fault that psychotherapy
did a piss poor job at 
treating bipolar affective disorder 
brain chemistry and physiological mysteries
govern my time on earth now
my relationship to my parents
or ex-wife do nothing to raise depression from the dead
do nothing to watch a hypomania rise and fall
am i a bad patient
for thinking it a waste of time to speak of dreams
in the midst of a thunderous depression?
am i selling psychotherapy short? 
can it actually do wonders and bake bread
if i would meet it half way?
the heart of the matter is this: depression leaves me
i don't drive anymore
don't take the train
don't leave the house
psychotherapy might as well be in a different galaxy 
were it just outside my door
could i simply fall into my therapist's lap
then i'd consider regular attendance 
but even then
i suspect 
psychotherapy is made for people 
other than me
people with trauma
with real problems 
"coming to terms with"
people who once had potential 
could have it again
whereas i feel a bundle of nerves
and misfiring electrodes 
confused streams of serotonin 
traveling too little and too far away
chemical processes in a brain lab 
a rat in a cage 
waiting for the newest meds regimen 
to sustain life for another few weeks 
i wonder how many cancels it will take
until the therapist finally drops me
we'll see next week
when the weather once again
finds me snowbound  
Melody Chen



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