“What must be the being of man if he is to be capable of bad faith?”
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
veil one [childbearer]
growing up, we all wanted to be free. it was a given,
just as sleep was for the night, and waking for the day.
but in our wanting, we were told a great lie:
“the earth is not your mother; do not ask her for your sight.”
and in the safety of our skin, we believed.
left lingering in spotlights, the soil masked its own decay. ashamed,
or so the people spoke upon the revelation: “cheater, cheater, man-eater.”
they gutted rivers, they swallowed skies, each one burning
for a history. it is here that they live on―the only truly dead―
and this is where they came from.
veil two [engineer]
what carves between the bones leaves plot holes
twice fooled in the places that once made me a woman
and now make me stork-raving mad,
lost in tangles of plug and socket politics
balancing the weight of the either/or.
y’know, i don’t miss being a kid―much―
but i think i could go for another ride
in all those roped off, heavy shaded waiting spaces
where you only gotta be (on) your own
to match up your body to the truth.
veil three [lenscrafter]
there’s lights on lights on lights, those whirling whites,
where red remains of children’s chains.
man, yesterday i watched the promised land
and it folded like for nigh hours in the glass,
lookin’ glum and snappin’ pipe.
but it was a miracle dream, i think;
the way i’d drink to drink, banging the sea deep
down in one, two, three gulps.
like, god damn, this is some high ground to walk,
but i guess i’m going to walk it anyway.
veil four [beggar]
the first try is never easy, and it sometimes leaves you
hungrier than before. but they hold you under
for seconds, thirds, fourths. kiddies, eat yer heart out.
yeah. one heart. collective, disassembled in blue,
oh―don’t you fucking look away when i’m talking to you.
sometimes i still get a bad taste in my mouth
from all the remembering. maybe it never goes away.
maybe you’ve been siccing the wrong dog all along.
(i’ll have what you’re having;
i’ll take whatever you’ve got to give.)
veil five [martian]
my mom used to count off my fingers and toes
‘cause otherwise it was too easy to forget them.
i could be anywhere, twisting in my body, and just suddenly
forget. sometimes i’d even shit myself, but
that’s how it is when you’re a kid. forgetting is the easy part.
i never even learned how to crawl; that’s the punchline.
five fingers on each hand, five hands in every happening.
a dream child if only i weren’t such a fucking re-tard,
and hey, if you call that quality comedy who could blame you?
it’s a funny joke, really, until you stop laughing long enough to listen.
veil six [emissary]
when i went out, i went out like a light.
imagine me, the six-fingered quickie,
bone crushing hard on the latest sensation.
and like any river set to land, i am slick to your games;
i know how you sharpen the earth on my misfires.
maybe it’s all a pissing contest,
and my dick can’t take the heat
so i’m drowning instead, like any river
set to sea. sorry-sayers speak it to my back
―i didn’t come home for this shit.
veil seven [victim]
i was laid down in seven agonies
or seven testimonies,
whose each blood boiled
like if a sin could shape a lie
or lie me down (in seven agonies).
and i have been naked too many times
to deceive myself by cotton or shadow,
or to forgive those who lied at me,
as though no great storyteller
had ever shamed themselves with cover.
veil eight [conqueror]
the mariner’s at the east and he’s beating at the lights―
stuffs stones and spiders down my throat,
his fingers to my teeth but he won’t call me by my name.
he threads iron down the swingset; my circulation’s fucked
and so am i. he only laughs until i cry.
i could not waste a word of wonder nor mind a mirror.
scrubbing grass stains out my jeans, playing dumb,
playing dead. and i suppose boys will be, will be. hell, it could’ve been me,
except i was too busy eating ash and being easy. but in the end, i always
bit down for every bullet. endlessly. swallowing the things they gave me.
veil nine [heretic]
i only ever bury my burden of proof, for it is only ever mine
to be honest where all other good men should lie (with a woman).
but last night i dreamt the truth in my mouth: the lines of seafoam,
the lines of a leather belt, the lines of an inky crutch. it tasted
like sweet power, but all embittered with the salt of a sign.
it’s the perfect point to pitch, just high enough in the sky enough
to be tented in gazillions of colors, wound around all my fingers but one
for the ring, to save and sanctify, to busy and brighten. but i am
only the first of many fevers, see? you’d do well to worry words for me, for i
will sick my sleeps on you―and you will splinter like i do.
veil ten [shadowboxer]
ten white lighthouses, pinned pretty in a row
here, in the space where all ships slip to shore.
ain’t that such a clever trick, too! it saves so much time
for men to waste inventing prosthetic sea legs
for the cowards who want out before they even get in.
here’s a tall order: carve out this vessel’s hull, a dull bore,’cause we all know
it’s juicy between the spits of splintering, a thick fruit you just can’t fix
yourself on. but in this sweet dying sweep it takes us like the token waves,
where all the years renew their hands in salt’s reprise. see, i’m man enough
to know when i’m beaten―but don’t think you’ll walk out of here the victor.
veil eleven [firefighter]
every size of thing was up in smoke and mirrors, every cut of static slo-mo
twisting my chest into chords—shallow, quick. and to this day i am a whip
to conflate tragedy with normalcy with history. my dank fuzz of ignorance
has merit to be messy. the truth was bigger than those mourning numbers,
bigger dressed in white or dressed in black. bigger still than i was tall.
even if i’d let myself slip into their white lies, to make my bed and bake in it,
there was nothing. no sleep for the living no rest for the dead. how simple,
though, to speak on the fears i have forgotten (for all that i’m not the one
who kept the memory). that was the shame i wound from house to home,
burnt down and built up, kindled to be kindred, kind to be cruel.
veil twelve [messiah]
it’s not a matter of
who threw the killing blow.
no one cares except for you.
they’d rather shoot the messenger
than hear him as he speaks.
if they tell you to spread ‘em
you’d best comply. just
take it from a champion:
some fish is flesh
and some is not.
veil thirteen [executioner]
i double-dog dare you.
let’s see your bones,
bitch. let’s see your body
where i’d burn it down.
are you alone? tell me
why you rot so early―
give the rest of us a go.
13 is such an ugly age
to get away with murder.
veil fourteen [handmaiden]
i'm awake in pins and needles, needling my eyelids for pinholes,
hunched over the snow like a predator―hear this cold, my interest rate.
not that it bites less to be lonesome, but there's always the big sleep dancing
in the sky, a soothsayer recompensed. it only sounds stupid because it is.
but i've no trust in divine retribution; ghosts and angels all look the same to me.
the open wounds scrap the meat that i spooned from my skin all for my darlings
who kept me in good company, in company at all. but they would not wrest
my eyes for a single fucking thing, and i've not a single fucking thing left to give.
i'm too weak to lift them, but surely they've figured who's to blame. i say: wrest
your own damn eyes; i’m laying down your weight for some other fool to carry.
veil fifteen [gardener]
most dreams wash out, but a simple few have mind
to stain. they brew in batting cages, shitting in the backseat
of the real, playing house. but the game is waiting, the trigger:
hair. they say “imagine all the things you’ve been, rising from dead.”
it's not pretend, though. you know they bury what they bleed.
yessir, for even dreams have known a wound;
from fifteen forms of frenzy, fifteen fugues at set of silence.
they know a lie or two won't pinch the skin or mark some safety,
but it's cleanest to twist imprisoned in a bastard memory,
a hungry ghost, worth more than blood but less than soil.
veil sixteen [brethren]
what a wicked calendar to waste.
what a wicked season, wicked cold,
will to power patching up the woken wound.
worse things have put the waking world
to waste, they say, the wicked word.
if it's free, then just from wind to window steals the magic,
so no one wonders if the pain is worth the weight.
we all know what's right has wronged the best of us;
what's left is left to those who work the land―
those wicked watching wicked walk away.
veil seventeen [heir]
walk. keep walking. ride with it. no hands. faster. run.
run for me. for all i am. i could not leave. i could not.
wait. listen. the silence is deadly. pick it up. take it with you.
ask. beg for it. mean it. make me mean it. but not for you. no.
say no. fight back. don’t let it happen. walk and keep walking.
time waits. time waits for no. time waits but not for me.
head down. you are free. look up. it binds you. it blinds you.
block it out. tie it down. you have to. i could not. but you will. say no.
use what you know. it kills you with a glance. get up. get up. get up and
draw your gun. don’t look. take aim. change your name.
veil eighteen [cliffdiver]
nothing walks the crooked road. the mighty-mouthed
have seen the sun from sooner places than these.
they want for safety; it’s all that they can do.
a tall order, to keep and be kept. so tall that
even the brave take up arms against the dawn.
that’s why there are other means of making
and other makers to be met. no one wants for flesh
the way they used to. instead we feast on fear,
ravenous and sunspent, crying what an honor, unto death,
to be left wandering the edge of morning.
veil nineteen [forecaster]
storm chasers have all the luck. it's sick,
how they can safely see the future in an angled eye,
no time wasted hunting for something telling in the wind.
it's always the quiet ones that get you though, they say,
and set to pulling lighting from their sleeves.
it won't be fast and it won't be easy, but i'll have
my twister banquet. bring water, bring sand, bring fire,
and leave your luck at home. i won't go out on anything
less than a gamble, and i know the stars may be unwritten,
but in my dreams—in my dreams there is thunder.
veil twenty [resurrectionist]
a man in a hole is no man at all,
nor so is a mouth cut with shovels
by another meal in the making. after all,
what use have we for mourning
where the grass grows?
split, like dirt for a ditch, we plead
to give as feed but keep as memory.
so why has no one ever had the faith
to say, "we want nothing of the dead
but bring us flowers for the living."
veil twenty-one [maniac]
"it's a war out there" you say,
and point to anything. rebel cruiser,
a zillion tons of rock ‘n’ roll
cut open on your backbone. tell me
what you think you can change.
pass me the party, i'm the lightning
up above. strike me something different,
wear the people out and tie them down.
you know i could build cities out of nothing, i could,
i could, i could and just maybe i will.
veil twenty-two [pilot]
this is no body, no way, no how―just another walking wound
that don’t mend for no bitching and no moaning. the pain taught me
to be speechless, infected at the mouths and hands of those
who’d want for even worse. i spit: pure bone, ignition, raw human data,
but all you hear is sex and silence. who's driving this hunk of junk?
no sorrow, no stain, no shame―i'm at the wheel. it was in me,
so many times before, to be an object, long words after spent spindling lies.
but how, now? now that i have shed my safety for the truth of memory,
echo and root, would it become me to once more shut my mouth?
i never said this would be easy. so long as i have words to say, you’ll hear me.
veil twenty-three [decomposer]
i swallow the seas in twenty-threes, and take
the mainlands with me. i let only nothing free.
it’s no small feat, for even food of fish and fowl
all leave me to my mercy. and mercy me,
do i slip into reverie―as easy as taking a drink.
see, when you sleep you lay down
what you carry in your body. all kept oceans
roll off the tongue―as easy as drowning.
and so the clay takes its leave, and the flesh speaks
on how sublime, for once, to speak on nothing.
veil twenty-four [earlybird]
the legends start where they've left off:
fury, ruin, golems, gods, and ocean size.
a star to call their own, the fear, the flesh, the animal
whose mother crooned, "worry not, little worm,
for every dawn shall have its day."
or so the story goes. come find it at the local library.
they all have the same twenty-four books and hours.
the same bodies buried in the same bricks. so in the end,
it didn't matter who went missing. it was all they'd ever wanted,
the stuff of legends distilled, to sleep in long past sundown.
veil twenty-five [stuntdouble]
it's cold, but only on the inside;
and just imagine how it feels to them.
that's you, the ghost, the gallows,
that gives no sums to seams of sound
or alms to strangers at the table.
at night, you hear them screaming.
first the blindness, then the sight.
they paint your passing underfoot, but
their flesh will never dream the way you do.
(you should know. you're counting on it.)
veil twenty-six [ringmaster]
sell me ruins, send me runes,
that i may cast these slaves to rubble,
fill their lives with fossil fuels,
their hands with loaded letters,
and their hearts and cars with drivers.
you won't work in this town again,
old friend, you've set your sights on misery
for the last time. it begs no question;
whatever caught you where you'd wandered,
you carried back to us.
veil twenty-seven [matchmaker]
today i learned: grownups sometimes run from hate as children do.
different shoes and different footprints, but all the same looks
on all the same faces, the same voices saying if you cannot learn by doing
then you'll never learn at all. i guess that hating things is easy
when you're busy loving people.
and loving people's easy, too, when you're using them as weapons.
a strong word is all you need, sometimes, to win the war. but
there's a fear that seeds in captured lands, a fear that keeps them running.
they know what's coming, the revolution―when it's easier to conquer love
than it is for love to conquer.
veil twenty-eight [ghostwriter]
some people live their whole lives without dying
even once. they leave no phantoms where they tread, but
fashion strangers made of meaning. imagine that―or don't.
i wouldn't, if i were you. you know they take the things they make
from what you know. and what they make is worse than murder.
the artist doesn't know what he does. but if you asked him,
he would lie. you'd never think it from the look of him, but even artists
pen for thieves. their shell is the strength to beg the question,
their bullet the eye of the beholder. out there, you’re only ever fighting
someone else’s war. ask anyone―i only know the ending's not the answer.
veil twenty-nine [warchild]
mother, i have found my woman.
she is laughing at this letter
and i am carrying her home.
she does not know that i'm a soldier.
i do not know if i'm a soldier.
there's something dying at my back.
it smells like salt and solid gold.
my woman's carrying me home
and i have told her i'm a soldier,
but until i'm fighting monsters, it's a lie.
veil thirty [messenger]
the modus makes the murder,
but the murder's in the mail. here,
our killers carry what they can.
these, of the pen;
those, of the sword.
still the mailmen conquer
as they came, with
loose lips and looser letters.
those, of the ceasefire;
these, of the war.
veil thirty-one [coward]
"―would you? i mean, i know you can't, but
if you could, if things were different, who
wouldn't? look, dude, it's not even that bad,
please don't take this the wrong way.
i'm only asking for a friend.”
“…wait, no, that's not what i meant. listen,
i'm a nice guy, really, i am. i didn't mean
to imply, i didn't mean to, i didn't mean, i didn't.
and, and i know you're not like that, really,
it's just that, y'know, if it were me i would―"
veil thirty-two [architect]
the hammer lives to serve the dead, for all
its masters mirror yours, their skeletons and trees
of nail, in askance, bite the dust. such fools
will never know that craftsman's plans
best lay in burning buildings.
but beyond the walls, you're no man's envy.
the streets are lined with faulty framework,
each house's doom is clear to you. your eye
has mercy in its work, retiring to nothing.
you built this home but it's not yours.
veil thirty-three [giant]
if you leave me standing, let me be left
head and shoulders above the weather
up here, where anything goes
and i’m too tall for anyone
to look me in the eye.
i won’t want for what’s below.
it is enough for me to make my ground
up here, where nothing stays. you know
i’d walk a mile in your shoes, too,
if you could find a shoe that fit.
veil thirty-four [bodysnatcher]
make it out
won't make it
out at all.
veil thirty-five [exhibitionist]
for now the meat’s boxed out in scars and strips
but the stripping isn't scary 'cause you bleed.
it's scary 'cause the dust gets into your bones,
and no one wants to be that guy
who smells like what’s hiding under everyone’s beds.
no one's walking out of this with dirty hands,
but clean killing doesn't keep well for the restless.
after all, it's worth it to have your armor at the ready, but―
“never would i ever…”
―some days you just wake up naked.
veil thirty-six [anchor]
i get scared when there is nothing underneath me
but the horror of the shade lives up above. i know
this balance isn’t mine to keep, but it becomes me
as its keeper. shackled, empowered, i fill myself
with earthly sorrows, but refuse to be unearthed.
my ball and chain is made of time, though,
and i know of few who could ever stand the waiting.
there’s no escape, but on the edge i find reprieve;
what weighs me down belongs to me
and i’m not falling if i’m free.
veil thirty-seven [bleeder]
the doctor only saw a flesh wound
where i lay dying on the floor.
skin deep, if my skin were thicker
than water, or my will to walk
away the weight in gold of going under.
so they released me as the life left, forgetting
37 degrees of dusk, the dance of death
when nobody's watching. but it was only when i
looked away that they would listen, and relieve me
of my heavy heart, the mourning star.
veil thirty-eight [omnivore]
nothing is born on a full stomach―not even people. not even me.
life is like that; blood takes time to run but half as red, and waking up
is only half the battle. still i ached for fodder, when i saw you. you, at the table
with the sweet shit of bonemeal, the green growths of chloroplasts,
and me with my milkteeth and nowhere to go.
i went anyway, though. i drank until i had to eat: fish and fowl, carrots and peas,
hand over hand over inch over pound. i dreamt of dining as you did,
dealt with dreaming like a slaughterhouse or garden weed. in shade you cast
i never starved, but i was never full either. that the kind of thing is always
better left buried than boiled or burnt, better born than built and broken.
veil thirty-nine [ghost]
just what do you mistake me as? these lamps are not for guiding.
i am human just like you. follow me, so nothing cuts our roots away.
hang the forgetting where the dead go. there are no more bridges here,
and this riddle is no choice at all. between playing god and paying up―
if there were ruins were made of you, what would you do?
you would keep their names as lamplight at the window, your angry ancestors
speaking anything, anything at all to power. they know where they have gone.
and we? do not. for here is what compels thee: this soil has your colors.
it has your mother's eyes. but your shame is my shame too, my friend, so
if you're tainted with its sickness, let me live. if it's all i ever ask you, give me this.
veil forty [manmaker]
for the hungry, to be left wanting is an ugly thing. preemptively,
or in temptation, we give ourselves to work at fasting. this
is the safety of a life at sea. so what makes an alien shore?
it's no wonder, but far be it from the truth to cast a flame for daytime
or burn down the stars to purify the night.
the light deserts us if we cower. the dark beguiles
us if we dream. the skin we shed in sorrow rots
quicker and thicker than any worried word. so come
and leave behind your kerosene and shadowed places;
the sun runneth over, alive and in color.