The nadir of naught

It’s very difficult to write

when you are depressed

when you know depression

isn’t fleeting

isn’t because something happened

but the same as

a piece of string

will get affixed to tree limbs sometimes

and despite all effort

not be able to get

free

O

I envy (you’re not supposed to envy, but I do)

those without this malady

the world would call them stronger

they may blush slightly and say

aw shucks it’s a lottery isn’t it?

I could be just as glum as you if

my dog died, if my car broke down

and in those instances I want

so much to say

nononono

that’s not it

at all

it’s crying on your wedding day

from pain not joy

it’s feeling strong at a funeral because

the wires in your head don’t fire right

it’s understanding you’re going to have to try ten times harder

just to stand and be counted

and even then

you may wish

not to be counted

because perversity

is the twin

of sadness

she breaks you into shards

snickering as you

flail to put things back

It’s very difficult to write

when you are depressed

when you know depression

isn’t something you can push through

like your MFA teacher bid

one night when you contemplated

cutting your wrists with broken pottery

almost on a lark when hearing; try to work smarter!

desperation surging unbidden

fast and dark like unfiltered coffee

always leaves its gritty mark

on the ennui of fileted souls.

(This is for all those who were ever shamed for being depressed and having depressive symptoms, for feeling they were ‘less than’ because they could not function seamlessly as others appeared to. I see you. You are counted).

Thoughts in light

She has written herself off

or so she says

watching youth inherit the mantle

she stares at her own flaccid chest

in unforgiving morning sun

and tries to convince herself to gently let go

light pouring in through the bay window

creating a halo effect in surround

she is bathed in unexpected warmth

her pores absorbing hungrily

that urging intensity, a happy blindness

as if the world paused in its toil

to tap her on the shoulder and whisper

it’s not near over yet girl

go out, gather your arms full

live

live

live!

I join you, though I am not you

Your smell stayed like a red hand print

Trying to grow in spaces that do not fit

I join you, though I am not you

Lingering in the periphery

Feeling a hard pain in the bones of my chest

Knocking like persistent woodpecker

a wick of red against gray

Truth or dare

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you

about the real me

she’s not happy with her subtefuge

it cost her heavily

the weight of deception has always

sat like curdled cream in a bowl

waiting to be thrown away

or consumed and in so doing

poison truth from her hiding place

she’d be forthright if

it didn’t cost more

than she had in her purse

purchased inexpensively

in a local artisan’s market

that closed years ago

when creativity waned

and people hoped their kids

would go to Business School.

Ecstasy

When labels were collars around necks

ruffled, feathered, leather, yoke

you were either ‘gay‘ or you weren’t

I was. And I fell for a man.

Boy really. Once. Only time.

Hips smaller than mine, delving into my bones

like cream poured through coffee we burned calcium

our former labels damp at the door.

The value of a woman is in her smell

the rustle of her soul, how gentle and tough

merge together into womanhood

he was none of these

acrid, funny tasting (masculine?) Sinewy arms wrapping around

like a lost bear it didn’t feel ‘right‘ it didn’t feel ‘wrong

we were very young, his mind on fire trying to figure out the world

popping little tabs like they could pause time

because God, someone had to.

In Winter’s loose ends, we holed up at his brother’s flat

half-Thai eyes and burnt toast skin, along with the tang of marijuana

it’s hard not to fall for genius’s and sexual beings with magnetism in their lips

we lay in the dark, he emulated a girl and then became a boy

shadows on the wall, male, female, something more

I clung to him through torrent, it didn’t feel ‘wrong‘ it didn’t feel ‘right

night stretched out in submission, he loved me being a woman

in ways maybe another woman never has

joined we were, hard to separate, laughter, solace, grief, shards of joy

his body sleek like a girls, hard to accept the difference, I looked away

feeling him move inside me like a word

aching for punctuation.

I felt like a woman, a woman, a woman

contrast, a figure of eight in reflection

kinder than any girl I knew, smarter than any other human

a girl will touch your breasts with knowing, then ask you to find her bra

he brought me gypsy guitar and red wine and sucked until I screamed.

Dancers, we, danced in detail, scratching out labels defining

what this was, who, what?

I didn’t love him, no. Love an underdeveloped muscle

in a closed box, only women and their sharpness can pick

he searched my face, my breasts, my thighs, for signs

of relenting, wanting to bury himself within, become one

stay together, two cusps, why not? Be mine. Marriage

some papered form of devotion. Not ownership, just need.

I wanted to give him a child then, birth it

right there on the futon, beneath moon, hollering; “eat me until

I become glutted on your goodness,” We shook together

a ritual, procession into silvered ore earth’s center

letting go, the child came, bidden, quickening, like opening

your mouth and accepting change, drink me down

between my legs, the writhe of us, male/female/female/male

losing edges, the blurred outline of pretense.

We woke when the light came

to an empty room

nothing left of us to consume

just condom wrapper

unused by the bedside

and life in my belly rounding music

he wore my silver ring

I told him, don’t cut your hair

remember nothing

we walked in opposite directions

he took a bus

I, a train

he never knew I took him too

in my belly, quiet and full.

Something about her

There is something

about you

they said

and they were right

in that way that isn’t universal

she did have something about her

and then she gave it to you

and you had

something about her

locked around your neck.

When you whistled

only she heard your call

came running time and again

hands powdered with flour

losing each time

something about her

because that is what happens when

girls give it away

without thought

as if it, and themselves, were

a paper boat let loose to rent

how then to remain whole?

they have to have it

to be

something

about

them

or they stay as tinsel in corners

gathering misapprehensions dust

no one remembered to take down

after the celebration was over

as hollow as old marzipan

left to suck up dry cupboard air

when placed for safe keeping by soft hearted child

leaching color onto old towels

still smelling of beach and sand

Dear

Often I imagine, when you open someone up, peal away their layers, inside you find this pomegranate, bright in the way only nature can create. So many people have these rich lives; children, grandchildren, homes, adventures, careers, compassion. Beauty and abundance of life in so many forms. Social media exemplifies this which is why I need to limit myself, a bit like eating a box of chocolates. If I indulge too much, I feel overstimulated, lost in the sari’s of color from so many lives, people, worlds, thoughts. It’s not even the emotions, those I can relate to, it’s the living in technicolor.

When I think of what resides in my inner most self I see my old worn much loved penguin and little ted, I see me running into my grandmother’s arms. It is as if I am possessed by the past and not even present.

We are taught to live in the now or for the future. But never the past. Why? Because living in the past isn’t living, it’s remembering, it’s regressing. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor the past. But we must also move on from it.

If there were a house fire, it would not be the expensive things I’d seek to save. It would be my green Kermit The Frog, the pressed flower from the meadow my grandmother and I walked. It would be trying to save the past from flames, even as they climb nearer.

Occasionally I wish to lose it all, so I would be forced to start over. Without the weight of the past on my shoulders. Some people say we’d be better off if we didn’t recall the past, we’d be free of it, and able to be whomever we wanted.

The funny thing is, if I were a blank slate, I think I’d go out and start looking for much cuddled toy penguins circa late 1970s and patchy, lost fur little teds and green frogs with crayon on their eyes. I think I would climb right back where I came from. Because nothing since, has ever, ever been as dear.

Highway 101

This is what I’d say
If we were speaking

If cellos played ambrosial
If those who said they were alone actually knew what alone meant
This is what I’d say
To the ancestors with sepia faces
To the full family tables I could never navigate
The empty drive, unfilled road, the lack of fake
I’d say
I can’t do pretense

Or big events
broken pipes
yellow light

Or changing people

False words
Mislaid purpose

I would say I couldn’t get on with you
We fought like siblings
Though both were singletons
The vibration of only children with no children
I would say I became angry when you lied
When you faked who you were
When you got suckered by people stupider than you
When you lived in your pretend world
Whilst I ate and feasted on blisters
I would say those from wealth and those from basalt cannot understand

The empire
Of emptiness

A track road with lisping night creatures
And desert burning into mirage
I would say it seems at times
Futile to try to get close

to anyone

But I felt serried to you
That’s likely why I got so churlish
Why I stopped talking

Said nothing

Because betrayal comes unconsciously for most of us
In the voluble let downs and unseen affronts
Like a storm threatening, then retreating

Electricity in verging air
Reminding us of bigger purpose

Points of tangency and points of equilibrium

The hour until we ease into contiguous dying
The way you assumed I’d believe what you believed
I never did
I carry a heart with wormholes in it
The rain lets out
You get out
I drive on
In the mirror of oil on the road
I see you understand

I would say we were the same
Not even at different ends
Just burning with curved impulses

That quench the other
As I look in your eyes

I see myself

And it hurts and unsettles me

Worse than my own reflection

I inhaled the knife

You didn’t encourage me to write or let me know I could do it

you told me; you can’t spell

you don’t speak any language well

you have split ends and are at times

manic like a dervish without charm

but you’re always on time, good at lifting heavy things

maybe you should organize talented people’s lives

because you don’t have any of your own …

talent that is.

I didn’t listen. Not because I didn’t believe you

Oh I did. I inhaled the knife.

Sometimes the road will hurt like a thousand feet

trodden on your back, weighing your down

but what can you lose? 

Still not speaking any language perfectly

you may hate me … but I?

I send you love and I send you love

because that’s all I have.

I remember the year

I found a rabbit on my window ledge

celebrating six months of not wetting the bed

I had peed into nightmares wondering

if you would ever return, but you never did

though you may be surprised

I gained strength through that pain

even when you think I am weak in my ways

I see the courage in being able to feel

the toughness it takes to love when you are not loved in return

because I still can’t spell and you laughed at me and said

what writer can you be if you don’t know

your pronouns from your iambic pentameter?

Hemmingway. Austin. Oh I can name a hundred … 

But I learned anyway and by then it didn’t matter

because you’d already made your pronouncement and left

your wet umbrella still propped by the door.

I thought of all those souls like me

who were not taught words of light

instead the dark shroud of incessant criticism

who did not learn how to believe in themselves

recalling all the reasons you gave

for why I will always be a failure and a disappointment

then I wrote it down

poured myself onto a page

not always perfectly groomed 

with the savagery of one who has

felt so much and loved so hard

in the glaring halo of afternoon

where yellow turns to indigo

suffusing everything 

momentarily incandescent 

ARC review of History of Present Complaint by HLR

History of Present Complaint (2021)

By WordPress favorite HLR

Published by Close To The Bone Publishing

After a while, when you’ve spent a lot of time reading poetry online, it’s a damn challenge to find that which sticks. When it does, you know you’ve got a keeper.

Before 2019 and the events described therein, I had been exposed to HLR’s work via Hijacked Amygdala, a Writing Collective . All the miscreants of that collective had gone off the deep end in some form or fashion, and without exception, all of them were bloody good writers irrespective of mental status.

Maybe some wouldn’t find that impressive. I thought it was bloody spectacular.

Sure, it’s easy for some ‘nutter’ to write a bunch of crap on a loo roll and call it art, and who knows? They might win the Booker or the Turner, depending on whim.

But true ability isn’t as easily honed. When you’re plunging in the deep end, the last thing you’re usually able to do, is be a coherent human being.

And while many an artist has produced their finest works when stoned, smashed, mentally impaired, simply mad, it’s more common these days to find well-coiffed Indian youngsters with mesmerizing faces and rich parents, on the poetry best seller list.

HLR is none of the above. In a way it doesn’t matter who she is, except that it really does.

HLR is a mysterious, slightly gorgeous, utterly deviant and exceptionally talented writer and I’d bet my horse on her any day.

From my first encounter with her writing, I was addicted. It isn’t the lesbian in me either, before you ask, but her raw, guttural truth and the ability she has to write like nobody else I’ve read who is still living.

I could easily wax lyrical here, and compare HLR to Plath, Bukowski, Childish, Sexton, or a raft of other notable poets you’d know the names of, and nod approvingly. But that’s not going to cut it.

HLR isn’t a prescription bottle, you can’t take a little blue pill with a cold glass of water and understand her. You have to throw her out of the window, every little pill, and watch where she falls. It’s in her fall, you find her deepest truth.

This couldn’t be exemplified more so than in her debut collection of poetry, History of Present Complaint.

This book is horrifying. Nothing less. I read it in one sitting (perfect length for a kick you in the mouth kind of read that leaves you sweating). To say HLR doesn’t pull back almost makes me laugh maniacally. She doesn’t just not pull back, she’s the fucking ringmaster to this and she’s wields the whip very, very acutely.

So, if you’re faint of heart, naw, don’t go there. Put the dangerous book down and walk the hell away.

This isn’t a gentle read and nobody is apologizing for that. No chance mate.

Let’s get the basics over with:

This is a collection of guttural cries from the unraveling depths of a human being who I happen to know is a really, really good human being and it’s a wonder she’s still with us but a very, very good thing.

This is written by someone who is more naturally gifted at writing than 99.9 percent of poets out there today.

This isn’t something you can forget and you’d better not try.

Okay then.

I’ve worked on #metoo anthologies, and I can’t say I have ever been as disquieted, which I know is a funny old-fashioned term, but so apropos for an age-long disease of society – that is RAPE.

Maybe we need to take the uncomfortable and taboo or pushed under the sofa truths out of their jars now and wake people the fuck UP.

This isn’t the kind of review where you quote ‘clever’ lines and pat the invisible author on the head for accomplishing such great feats.

This author stands with you whilst you read, she’s looking you in the eye, you’re trying to read the book but you’re acutely aware of her staring. It’s a bit like being caught looking through family photos without permission. Yeah, maybe you don’t have the right. Except she’s written this and she’s put it out there, which takes some MONUMENTAL GUTS and you find yourself tongue tied (which you never get, because you’re a verbose so-and-so) in the presence of this. Because it isn’t okay and it isn’t fixed and it’s not safe, and it’s lying on your lap beating its life blood all the way down to the beige carpet.

Dare I be personal and say I can relate intensely to a lot of this. Having lived in the UK before, there are nuances and details that stand out like sign posts pointing to the uncanny ability HLR has for evoking a moment, an era, a time in a person’s life.

And I’ve been her age, I’ve experienced some of the same things, but could I have succinctly and with eloquence and grit, put something like this together? Not in this life time.

HLR is an old soul for every one of her youthful years. She’s actually completely hilarious too, as all very, very clever people tend to be, she’s got that sardonic wit down to a tee and it serves its bilious undertone very well against the horror of the psych ward.

I’m not going to take a quote and put it in isolation to the rest, because this creature she’s whole and she deserves to stay that way. Read all of her or just go away. But don’t, whatever you do, be vanilla.

HLR could possibly be one of the most exciting poets of her generation, and yeah that sounds hackneyed but it’s so close it burns.

She’s not a squeaky clean, healthy, well adjusted young woman. Her dad died. She was really young and she lost her dad. Anyone who says that’s not a huge thing, gets the first kick in the face from me. She’s bipolar, although that’s just an outdated, generalized description that’s overused, but it causes her some massive trouble when awful things happen and she’s trying to cope. She’s an old soul with yellowed finger tips from chain smoking who does her bloody best in a dysfunctional world with a really heavy dose of horror thrown in, just because it can. She’s seen your labels and she’s raised you.

I have read quite a few collections of ‘my time spent in a Psych unit’ and this doesn’t evoke any of them. It’s a story written in blood, with very little distance between the actual moment of it happening and you reading the recollecting. If that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck rise, very little is going to. But like any macabre rendition, it’s also desperately funny and horrifically detailed, guaranteed to dispel any notions of safety.

At times I felt I was reading inside HLR’s brain, the popcorn seizures of her descent and rise, like I inherited the mad vibe and lost my footing. It is this nearness of experience that makes HLR’s writing so genius, yeah, I said it, and I mean it. She’s got ‘that’ ability to crawl into your amygdala and take up residence. It’s pretty disturbing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Maybe I will quote:

“I will never come back from this

Don’t say that

It’s true. I will never come back from this. If, with the benefit of hindsight, I had the choice between dying in the street and hypothermia and poisoning and those 12 hours in hospital, I’d choose the former, without a doubt. They really hurt me.”

I feel bad for quoting. I feel like I’m wearing a severed piece of a soul on my arm as a handbag by quoting. And yet, it might help you understand the method here. There is no method. You are free of method. This is real writing. It doesn’t need a fucking method. Look around. Use your words. Now THAT’S something.

We lament that art in its myriad of forms, is stale, lacking, aloof. And the purity of this collection is its lack of pretention, self-consciousness and formula. As if you had been there yourself. And there’s a bloody lake of value to that because it’s real, and it pulls you by the throat into the vortex that is trauma and refuses to politely lead you by the hand.

If we are ever going to change, if we are ever going to understand and stop not really giving a shit about sexual violence and mental health and other really important things, then we have to be like this. We have to.

As long as we hide behind formula, ego, methodology, then we may as well keep the same manuscript and just keep changing the name.

“It was real. It was real. It was real to you.”

Should poetry be this visceral? Absolutely.

Should women expose their experiences this blatantly? God yes.

North London. Edmonton. On a Tuesday afternoon, you are sixteen and psychotic and should be at school.”

All that and more. All that and MORE.

I want something real, don’t you?

History of Present Complaint is real. I wish it weren’t. I really do. Because HLR went through this and that bothers me, a lot. But she got up and she wrote this and that’s what she did then and that’s not all she is by any measure, and you’re going to see that in the coming years, I’m damn certain of it.

Sometimes the ones who wanted to die the most, are the ones who can describe living the best.

In fact, I think I should say … I told you so.

They were the liars.

Get your copy here.