From Ground to Glass

When the bottle began it was sand, and back then it could be so many things –

dust in the ocean that’s scattered in the sea, or soil for a garden, or something in the carpet or a vacuum machine.

But then it was cast into glass, and the potential narrowed down.

It could still be so many things, though: stained and set in the window of a church, or a set of marbles, or the sculpture of a tree.

And then it was shaped into a bottle, and the options lowered still, and there were so few things, now, that it could ever hope to be –

empty or full or broken, or someplace in-between, but a bottle, still, shard(s) of glass just waiting to shatter and to be seen.

And the bottle wanted to be the sand in the ocean

And the bottle wanted to be the sculpture of a tree

And the bottle wanted to be a bowl and the bottle wanted to be a window which you would look out of, sitting next to me.

And there was a time it could have been any of these things –

But now it was a bottle, and a bottle’s all it would be.

Wings

There’s something growing beneath my skin; I can feel it,  when flowing through my veins, cobalt and electrifying, numbing and overpowering. I tried to take my temperature, but the thermometer froze and cracked, sliding mercury bursting between the roof and floor of my mouth, weaving beneath the tongue. It took me a second to even notice before I’d swallowed it all.

I don’t know what it is, or how it got there, but I know that you’d be proud. My skin is cracking, scales beginning to form. My eyes are changing shape, changing shade. I am adapting, evolving, becoming something foreign, something new, something you wouldn’t like to see but would smile to know is here and breathing.

I fall asleep at five in the morning, wake up at six in the evening and in my bedroom I hide ‘til eight, waiting for the sun to set, but this time of year it stays in the sky until nine on some nights. I wait and watch the ground grow pale, watch the fading light cast the world into a glow of gray and white that I wish would never leave.

The skin on my back is peeling away and bones are beginning to twist free. There are wings growing out of me. There is filth beneath my fingernails, and when I scrape them with my bottom teeth they taste just like you. I drag them across my mouth until they bleed, and when they bleed I wait until I dig further into the soft black earth that I know will give way to something greater, something grander, something purer than this. If there’s something else beneath my skin, I can’t be the only thing with something truer hidden.

I remembered what you used to tell me, that thing I’d somehow forgotten. You’d said “Light’s just temporary, bulbs all burst and flames die down. Darkness was here first, and it always survives. The first star burned and the last star will die and then it’ll all just look the same as before.”

And then I thought of the light you’d brought with you, and how it was just another one of those temporary events, mistaken for permanence. Now in this darkness, eyes having seen your glow, I’m free to change into something else. I’ve seen how the skin of my wings flaps like leather and shines like dragonflies in the sprinkler-bathed sun of summer sweat and air.

I tried to take off; I tried to fly. You used to ask what superpower I wanted, and I’d tell you. I’d tell you how much I wanted to soar and twist and turn and wave off into the cool night air and leave everything behind. You’d ask if that included you, and I’d say, “Of course not, I’d take you with me.”

But we both knew that wasn’t true.

I tried to take off and found that as I bathed within a bed of clouds, accumulated weight and moisture beating off my wings, that all that was left for me was to fall. And so I did – I fell just like one of those fireworks you’d pointed to on the front porch in bare feet on New Year’s nights and Fourth of July’s as sticks dug into your soft heels and you leaned, weight shifting onto me. I fell just like those stars you’d like to point to as we laid on blankets set on the soft grass you’d watch me cut. I fell and I knew that these wings, they weren’t for flying. I knew that I’d always come back down, sun or rain, night or day, always doomed to descend again.

As I dig down into this hole that has become a pit and then into this pit that has become a tunnel to some unseen hall I have begun to question why they ever grew to begin with. I won’t fall for the illusion of light unending again, not after seeing how beautiful this black space is.

I look in the sky and look at the moon and know it’s all I’ll ever need to see again. Cars start and people move. Fires burn and ashes spread. My reflection isn’t any truer than it was before any of this, but I know what’s underneath it; I know what’s underneath it, just waiting for the rest of the skin and all of the scales to finally fall away. Wounds turn hard before they finally heal for good, and I have turned so hard.

I just keep digging, hands like claws and caked in soot, sifting through the remnants of something we both burned a long time ago now. Maybe once all of this is over, you’ll see me for who I really am, not for who you thought I was, not for who I was told to be. Maybe I’ll split free of this body entirely, and when I do, I’ll bury it, and these tunnels will become its tomb, and you can come to visit them, and I will finally be beautiful – I will be just like you.

Bleu

I used to think about a lot of things that I can’t even remember anymore, I just feel their absence, can see the space in the bottle where the wine that I poured into the glass used to reside. Memories that sat on the shelf for years only to be uncorked and swallowed within minutes, hours at most, disappearing forever. I dream of mundane things that mean so much to me; there’s snow falling even though I’ve still never seen it; there are stars falling even though I always want to watch them shine forever, photographic in their imagery. I talk too much; I never say enough.

I walk beneath streetlights in the dark and I let low breezes sweep up under me, taking off my glasses because the last thing I want is to have to see all of these places that the older I get become less familiar and more distant to me, and it’s like all of the memories that still stay in their bottles or are swirling in the glasses before getting swallowed up by my greedy throat belong to someone else entirely. I look at spaces underneath trees where I was knocked over by other kids and tore the cartilage in my knee (I didn’t see a doctor for it, and it healed on its own over the years; I still don’t test the limits of it). I look at the backs of buildings where we used to stand, and it’s like I never knew either of us, like they’re just well-detailed stories someone else told to me about themselves, or someone else they used to know.

But I know it all happened to me. I know this life has happened to me.

I think of a night I sat in a closet in an apartment where nobody lives anymore (and were they really even living then?). I think of how I was surrounded by other people in that closet and yet all of us, each of us in our own ways, were never more alone than right then. I used to feel united with others in our mutual loneliness but now there’s nothing of the sort inside of me – when I’m far away, I’m far away, and when I’m close to everyone else, I’m conjoined surgically. I think of a year ago and then I think of a week ago; keep my eyes on the crumbling gravel of the once-well-paved-street; I stood outside with two other people who I knew were men and who I knew I was nothing alike while everyone else stood inside, talking, laughing, smiling, and I laughed, and I smiled, and I told my jokes and made everyone else do the same but I wondered if it felt so hollow to everyone else like it did to me.

If you don’t care how much time you think you’ve wasted, is it really time you’ve wasted? Who’s to say the value of an hour? Who gets to decide the currency of a year? What’s a week to anybody but me? I want to know more about how other people determine what’s worth their time, but it’s all so abstract to me. I think of the things I was told would be important and I don’t care about a single thing, but all of the meaningless instances, all of the quiet moments, all of the smallest ones that happened at midnight or happened for free – those are the ones most precious to me.

I want every forgotten moment to be so precious to me.

Flood

There has to be something more inside of her. Something primal, something from before any of us first crawled forth from the ocean deep. Something from before we walked in stride, heads facing the sun. I find these things, instinct coded in coiling lines of DNA, carried in blood, coursing through the veins my fingers trace along skin stretched across arms resting gently. I reach in and pull them out, examining them in this dying evening light, film strips of identity.
Sunsets give way to a world separate from ours, where the only thing cast in a deeper darkness than the woods surrounding this isolated home I make in her is myself. Something is lost, but something is found in shadow as a side of me awakens. A side of me arrives. Maybe it has always been there, nocturnal like the owls whose eyes glint in fading moonlight or predators that stalk and coil between trunks of trees older than we will ever be, lifeless life not concerned with these things.
In her hair I find a softness that I had never seen within myself; in her mouth, space to be filled. Words to be spoken softly like falling rain that is beginning to pour down now, soft pale light revealed in the cracks of clouds where overlap has failed to occur. We have seen night as a waiting period for day, but we have seen wrong: in her night there is no sun that could revolve to this space now.
Just as too much light will blind you and cause darkness maintaining its permanence, too much of her will take it all away, the power cut, the rain leaking through. It drips on me now. The flood has begun. I let it grow around my feet. I let the walls become a box and the box fills with waters cold and dark. I rise with the water and reach the ceiling, face barely breaking surface tension as I look up at the darkening wood before submerging now; looking down at a bottom that seems to grow farther away the longer I swim to it. When they find me here, lungs full of fluid, they will call me a victim, but they will be mistaken. I could have walked through the door when the first drops fell. I could have left this chamber behind. But I chose to remain. Now, I drown.

Starboy Review (AKA An Article Where I Gush a Lot About Abel Tesfaye)

I got asked to do a review of The Weeknd’s newest album Starboy, which got ran over at Headstuff, as you can read here:

http://www.headstuff.org/2016/12/review-the-weeknd-goes-interstellar-on-starboy/

Forgot to put this here a week or so ago. I can’t stop listening to the album. I had to give it a score and I hate giving things scores. In general I dislike the idea of things being critiqued in numerical values. Judging art with math is just silly to me. But I totally get it. I hate things like Rotten Tomatoes scores and yet I look at them just as much as anybody else even when I know how full of shit they can often be. Regardless, Starboy is an amazing album and the best thing The Weeknd has done so far. I’ve seen a lot of people that are a lot less enthused about it and it’s disappointing to hear; I think it’s the ultimate blend of his darker trappings and his commercial aspirations, and it manages to splash blood across the poppy canvas he’s painted his own image on. It’s a total fucking blast and needs to get played really, really loudly.

Been extremely busy with working on rewrites of a number of short stories and drafts for novels so I’m using articles and reviews as ways of taking breaks from that side of my head while still exercising my writing muscles. Getting into painting again. Bitching about movies. Kicking general ass.

A Good Day, and Rambling About Flash Fiction

A Good Day, and Rambling About Flash Fiction

So, this way older piece of flash fiction of mine came out, and you can read it for free here:

A Good Day by Josh Sczykutowicz

I have way too much older work just sitting around, semi-stockpiled. I had a period of time where I was utterly obsessive about submitting short fiction anywhere and everywhere all the time and I just kind of stopped being that obsessed with it. It is one of the most tedious and time-consuming processes with generally very low reward beyond the psychological one that, unfortunately, I think I got pretty used to, and I’ve just been way more interested in novel-length work these days. I have way more material just sitting around on flash drives and hard drives that I’ve considered just vomiting up on here sometime because I don’t really care to go through the months-long process of waiting to hear back from somewhere just to get told “No” or twice as long to get told “Yes” and then have six people see it.

I have a lot of odd ill-fitting things that are really short and really prose-centric and there’s not a lot of places all too interested in that beyond microfiction mags from what I’ve seen; everyone wants a diagnosable plot rather than a suggested one and to me if you want that you should be reading something longer than 1,000 words. The most interesting flash I’ve read is usually inference-based writing. I remember reading Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts and the best thing in it was a story called Dead-Wood that was a page long and had zero dialogue. There’s a time and a place for different things and I don’t think that flash is exactly the place to try and sell me on some expansive sci-fi vision or some lore-entrenched fantastical realm. Show me a scene; give me a painting; give me a single frame that I can make the rest of the film around in my head. That’s what makes the form so interesting to me and the best of it that I’ve read leaves me haunted by what I’ve just taken in and not really needing to see more because my mind’s already filled in the rest. Give me a really human snapshot of a moment in someone’s life that connects towards and back into several others and I’m happy. Try to write a Wikipedia summary of your novel-length story in 1,000 words or less and I’ll wonder why the fuck you didn’t just write a novel.

I’m trying to get back into writing little flash pieces and short stories again that don’t explode into novella territory. I think it’s a good habit to maintain and a good habit to have. It’s really its own craft; being good at one form doesn’t mean you’ll be good at another whatsoever. I have so much respect for people who only write short stories their whole lives. That’s a commitment to an art that is generally undervalued and underappreciated. When you read a bad one it’s a mild disappointment but doesn’t feel like that big a waste of time and when you read a good one you feel like the whole world has fallen out from under you and you’ve landed someplace else extraordinary.

As a writer I’ll even get jealous, and if it’s really good enough, I’ll even go past that into sheer awe and inadequacy — that deep certainty that no matter how good I ever get, that level will always be out of my skill range. Amy Hempel does that to me in a way nobody else ever has. Almost everything she’s ever written stuns me. It’s incredible. I remember getting a completed works collection of hers at fourteen and reading half and saving the other half because I knew I needed to give myself room to grow with them and save some for my future self. I didn’t want to run out of her words, that’s how stunning they were to me. Things of perfect beauty. She can do all the workshops and explain her craft and dissect it all she wants, and while you can learn a lot from that, there’s a core talent at the heart of her writing that no workshop can grant you. It’s just amazing. She’s one of those rare people on an entirely separate plane of artistic existence and I’m always just grateful to get to see it.

So, A Good Day. This was a cool little flash horror piece I did back when I was just letting myself have a lot of fun with flash fiction and not worrying at all about any of the shit I do now. I rewrite everything a ton but this is one where I think, overall, the core piece really did not change all that much in a way that someone else might notice at the surface, more just neurotic obsession over specific syntax or word choices. I love good horror fiction a lot and this was a definite genre-specific piece. I just liked it. Hopefully you do, too.