Category: Street

but few words

I want to tell you, now.  

To make up for never telling you then.  

The way I repent now.  

For the kind of person I used to be.  

And go through days looking for a way to make my spirit whole.  But I’m coming around to the idea that there’s no one waiting at the gate.  It’s just me again.  

And I keep trying to chip away at the most substantial things.  I think of ways to get rid of things, and friends.  

The only reason I don’t sever ties with my family, because I’m weak or I love them.  

Everyone else seems to boil away into vapor.  

It’s funny what you can accomplish without trying, or caring.

But who am I anyway?  I can feel it in my hand sometimes, the muscles going slack, like just before darkness and sleep.  

I could probably lose my cell phone.  Get a simple phone plan that only accepts calls.  Live on rice and water. Fast four days out of the week.  Read more books.  

Try to think in verse.  

I could probably lose the people I talk to, who talk back out of convenience, but don’t really care.  

Hell, I don’t really care either.  

It just feels like something is being let go.   

I think about how I don’t talk to anyone at work, besides my manager, and maybe one or two other people that require talking to.  

The Dao says “To use but few words is natural.”  

After food, water, clothing, and shelter, what do you need?  A bit of conversation? Some basic distractions, meaningless banter?  

It seems like the harder a conversation is to come by, the more precious it is held.  

Over years, and growing more golden with age, becoming a cherished thing you only once knew.  

Wherever they go, wherever they’ve been, and whatever might have come to pass, I wish them the very best.

Under your skin there’s an animal that wants out.  Something basic and mean. But something pure and honest, too.  Held in check by shreds of morality and scraps of ethics. All the shit they put in your head to program you. 

Split me right down the middle, divide me up into the good and the bad.  

Feel like you’re drowning in the everyday barrage, the sharp buzzing distraction of emails, text messages, chit chat, and bitter memories.  Try to block it out with music and art and hear or see nothing. But people still prying their way back through the shutters.  

“People were doing it for ages before cell phones,” someone says.  “If you get lost, you’ll probably figure it out.”  

Makes you wonder how much you could get rid of.  

Late at night, eyes closed and waiting for sleep to come creeping in, I think of living alone in the wilderness.  Far from any town.

A gun to hunt.  

Pen and paper to write.  

Not much else.  

A bank account to see me dead.  Whatever comes after, let someone else bear witness.


It’s just a scene playing out.  

Over and over again.  

You can feel your brain coming out of your skull.  You can feel your jokes landing flat. You can feel the impasse, the general failure to communicate.  

I wish someone had prepared me.  “Prepare to be alone. Prepare to be unable to relate to other people.  Prepare to live in solitude. Prepare to be rare, and different. Prepare to be gifted or retarded – it’s the same thing here.  Prepare to be set apart.”

That’s what it feels like.  A stranger even to people I think I know.  Still too weird to make it work. I’m always lost. 

I hate crowds.  They make my skin crawl.  Lines and busy restaurants.  All the people pushed up against one another.  Or worse, glued to phones.  

Like vegetables.  Like statues, or dolls.  Empty and bereft of life.  

It’s a feeling.  It’s just a scene playing out.   A train sliding by. Too quick to be caught.  Speeding on to the next station.  

It’s a feeling.  Means nothing. Adds up to zero.  Let it go.  

People want to leave their mark.  But that’s not art. The cavity your body leaves in reality is your legacy.  An empty apartment. Faded photos of a person who never comes around. A name you only dust off in remembrance.  

I don’t like it, the lines.  The sewer water they freeze into ice cubes, then serve up with your drink so you can taste it there, too.  

“What are you drinking?”


Stupid boring people always want to get fucked up. I find myself there whether I want to or not.  Sometimes it’s good to feel out of it and sober. Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance. Not enough calcium or something.  Maybe I’m depressed. Maybe tonight is the night.

Sometimes I think, maybe I’m not even here.  And I take photos to prove to myself that I exist.  Long after I’ve taken them, they seem to mean something else.  

But the events that pass by still feel like nothing.  Just a scene playing out. Something underpinning your being, Your existence, the thing that assures you:  you are.  


Can’t change it.  Embrace emptiness.  And cultivate it.  

Unbalanced.  Crazy and lonely. Sick, and over time, getting sicker.  Faithless, til finding faith in Nothing. The dim flickering hope that at the end of a road awaits some reward.  

Artful people make Art that looks like Art, to be sold as Art.  Meanwhile artists make real shit.  

If something would be beautiful, crass and cruel folks scuttle by and pluck it up and put it on a high shelf.  

But I want to find the people who look at it and drink it in for a moment, before moving on.  Or who wake in the night, recalling a prior vision. But who left it there, untouched, unplucked, knowing it isn’t something to be owned.

I want to find people who still have souls.  Who still think, and think they can be better, if only practicing a little restraint.  

I want to find the people who know the way, but never call it.

Why do you have a camera? She asks.  

“He always has a camera.” Someone tells her.

I always have a camera, I tell myself.  

The things that make you unique aren’t named.  They’re something asleep in the dark, deep inside your chest.  Or locked away inside your head. Bringing them up, they seem to evaporate into thin air, appearing lost.  But you never had the words to bring them up in the first place.

You’re a dash or an ellipse. Negative space between two black lines.

But it’s the emptiness of a vessel that makes it of use.

Masculine Spelling

“Does your cousin have any allergies?”  I ask.  

Garrett looks at me for a moment, his eyes digging into my face and mouth, searching for some trace of a punchline.  

“Um, carrots.  And eggplant.” The briefest of pauses.  

“And some nuts.”


My face cracks into a huge grin.  “You’re too easy man, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” I tell him.  

“What?  You’re gonna say ‘but not deez nuts’, right?”  His voice drips with a comical irritation. It grows in pitch, sharp and pointed towards me.


“I would have told him ’your words, not mine’” Tom tells me, laughing. 

He asks if Garrett is coming to dinner. “I mean, if he is, you want me to clean up around the apartment, bro?”

Maybe…if Olivia comes too…then let’s roll out the red carpet.  


But I’d be too ashamed if a woman came by.  Four seats in the entire apartment, the accumulated mismatched ensemble of countless residents, coming and going over the years.  

I keep telling myself that I’ll buy furniture.  But then other things pop up. And those other things seem to deserve more attention and money.  



Maybe when you die, you realize it.  You realize, “I died”. And everything else after that is just fighting sleep.  Maybe you could spend five years fighting that feeling, the feeling of being right on the edge, and drifting off.  

Other times, the feeling of just too much to do before the lights go out.  

Days of work, and days of errands, duties, obligations.  Days of commitments, engagements, and obsessions.  

Late nights listening to sad songs.  Smoking and drinking in the moonlight.  Alone. All along.  


Everyone is the victim in a love story.   

Stay gone.  

Leaves have fallen.  Snow comes now. On the other side, the green tidings of spring and another year.  


Conversations of Getting Better, conversations that mean nothing.  Tell a joke to laugh, to slip away from the seriousness for a minute.  But that’s what people always come back to. The progressive march towards a towering gate, torches blazing there on either side.  On the arch above, the word: Success.  

I feel sorry for so many people, but mostly my friends and lovers.  And the people I know who might be interesting if they weren’t so busy trying to gain an inch of ground.  


Miss Rich by a few minutes, maybe.  Already gone to physical therapy. An empty bed and a window looking down on cold streets.  

“Tell him Carroll stopped by,” I instruct the nurse, after she asks if I want to leave a message.  

She peers over the top of her glasses as she writes it down, incorrectly spelling it.  


“C-A-R-R-O-L-L” I spell it out for a customer on the phone. 

“Like the masculine spelling…” the man says.  


For some reason, I can’t sleep.  Not ready yet, maybe. Not slipping off the edge of consciousness.  Not sinking into the dark.  

My eyelids just won’t close.  

I think, and the thoughts dredge up emotions, and from there it all goes to Hell in a handbasket.  

A breadcrumb trail, back to a place full of creaking floorboards and cobwebbed clocks.

It’s my own laughter that I can hear.  

It’s what you do that comes back to hurt you. 

Soaking in the feeling, of another book coming to an end.  The flutter of pages, the whisper of a closed cover, the silence of finality.

High L\ife

They say everything worthwhile requires sacrifice.  

Now Abraham dragged Isaac up that hill, to speak as much.  

In the corridor of days, it makes about as much sense.  In the sound that still gets through. Air being pushed up out of the dark underground. 

Missing sleep until it’s something  that comes and goes. Vision blurry and out of focus.  Mind not working right. Coming and going, like bad wiring.  Kill it with booze and cigarettes.  

I’ve been feeling rotten and reptilian, but only when I read scripture, or other religious or philosophical texts.  

Never when I’m in the simple day-to-day, in the mode of working, and coming and going from work.  

The way her voice sounds, soft and sweet.  “For sure,” she says in answer. It rolls off of her tongue.

Like an animal, what I would do.  

I crack my neck and knuckles waiting for my stop at West 4th.  I feel like I’m coming alive, my head breaking the slimy surface of a black pond.  

Rising up.  My eyes roll up and focus on the light above me.  

Somewhere up there, I think.  

My little brother tells me he wants a copy of the print I gave to our mother.  

But what good is art if you give it to everyone?  

The same thing, done well, over and over again, becomes cheap, and ordinary.  

After days of obsessing about models and projects, they seem to like what I’ve done.  

But what I did is just everything except what I didn’t do.  

The part you hide away from everyone probably wants to get out, too.  

Eventually you’ll tear yourself in two.  Right down the middle.  

The holidays are right around the corner and already my body begins to slow down.  One by one, the lights go out in all the rooms. And my brain grows darker.  

One day Garrett laughs about stupid nu-metal lyrics he found online.  

The next day I come clean about asking his ex girlfriend to work with me.  

I never know how to factor anyone else into the equation.  In my mind, when I do the math, there’s me and there’s a camera, and a woman, and photographs.  Everything else is just interference.  

Some nights I sit at the bar and stare into a glass and drink in the static.  All the mindless chit chat. All the wasted minutes and hours and days and years.  

“You’re lucky because you got out early,” Garrett confides. 

“Smartest thing I ever did,” I tell him.  But sometimes I wonder if I had that piece of paper, and I was just another fucking idiot brainwashed by the American Education System, if things would be easier.  

If ignorance is really bliss, maybe stoogery is only a slight downgrade.  

At night I edit photographs for a job.  And in between the looks is a Look. I know it means nothing.  

I’m just at the point where anything could seem like something.  

Tilt my head back until it pulls at my throat.  And the tension begins to drip down my spine. Wipe the sleep from my eyes.  And brain.  

Not yet.  Not yet.  

Photographing stains on the subway.  And on the platform when the train comes, I think about killing myself.  

Just a thought.  What will I have for dinner tonight?  Hey, photograph that stain. You know, you could jump in front of that train.  

Life is getting easier.  The less you talk, the more that fades, the smaller the circle gets and the colder you feel.  Maybe depression gets worse, too, this time of year. But if you’re a man, who the fuck cares?  

Holidays and the biblical flood of imbeciles it brings to the streets.  The cold. The general bullshit and misery of the holidays. The invitations of family, invitations that force me to question whether I really can’t make an appearance, or if I simply want to remain away from warmth.  

But then I wonder if anyone really wants to see me, and I begin to think it’s all some big lie or joke.  Like they’re all in cahoots with one another – to make me think I’m part of something I’m not.

But I’ve always felt that way, about everyone.  

“Tomorrow is another day,” Tony says.  Then he utters his goodbyes and melts into the night.  

I stare up at empty windows.  

And I rake my brain for a reason.

Planet Rose

It feels like a narrow spit of land, growing narrower.   

It feels like being swallowed up by water.  

Losing touch with something bigger.  

Always the right thing – what you want to say, what you never do.  

Every night, in the red glow of city lights, I think of going wandering.  

If I spend time with people, we will talk bullshit.  And I’ll make a fool of myself for a laugh. But things will wind down and slow to a halt.  

Eventually, I will be alone, taking the A Train back home.  

Maybe everything is written.  And there’s really no room to move, outside of a narrow track.  

Robbing you of complicity, or at least agency.  

But I think each one of us can make some difference in the world.  Each one of us can choose what life we live, or at least how to view that life.  

And sometimes I think the two aren’t all that different.  

I miss the forests.  The mountains I used to hike in.  The sunlight through the trees. Everything laid out before you, youth was a mystery.  Nothing could hold us down.  

Now I’m maybe halfway or a third-of-the-way done.  It feels too far along.   

And every time I try to talk to anyone, I find it harder and harder to recall familiar territory.  We’re just strangers now, who remember one anothers’ names. But there’s no ritual left to follow, and every sacrifice feels forgotten.  

In time, everything dissolves.  

I kiss the top of Salma’s head as we stand on the platform waiting for the L. 

“He only went ahead of us because he knew that I was with you.  He wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” I tell her.  

“How can I repay you?  Can I buy you dinner? Some ramen?  Carroll, let me buy you some sweet-ass ramen.”  

I tell her not to worry, that she’s cool, so she kisses me on the cheek.  

“I bet you didn’t expect your night to end like this,” Lamia says, as the three of us follow behind, through a construction zone.  

But I never know how it’s going to end.  Sometimes I never even know where I’m at, much less in which direction things are headed.  

Maybe two days after I text him, Garrett responds.  And I wonder if he’s angry.  

But it doesn’t matter; I’m angry at myself.  

“You are a good man.  So things are going to come harder for you.”  Salma says, dragging on my cigarette.  

“What makes you think I’m good?” I ask, feeling a little defensive.  

“The minute you start talking about your nieces, a woman is going to know – come on, Carroll, you’re good.”

“I’m not that good,” I protest.  

Thoughts spring up in my head, leaving me feeling rotten inside.  

But even a person like me feels a sense of right and wrong.  So I don’t touch Salma.  

But when she puts a hand on my arm, it burns.  

Obscene thoughts.  

Rotten inside.  

I’ll go out into the night and wander.  

Listen until it becomes unbearable.  Open your senses until it hurts.  

Like a dog sniffing at city streets.  Every drop of sound. Every stab of light.  But nothing left to remain loyal to.  

In the gutter, you can only go up.  

Everything beautiful will break your heart.

Even as my eyelids seem to close, the train pulls into the station at Franklin Avenue.  With some last vestige of energy, I hazily exit the train and go up to the street.  

Is it really 4 am? 

Everything is closed, shuttered, cold and dark.  

I feel like the last person in the world.  

2 am phone calls

Up late aching for that 2 am phone call.  

You know the kind.  

Yearning with a heart you didn’t know you still had.  

I yearn with my teeth clenched through strange dreams.  

I rail against the knowing that we never got close enough.  

Now everything feels too late, and too far along.  But maybe there’s a little crazy left in the tank.  

What would you do to become unstuck?  In that moment.  

“Maybe you should go make someone else uncomfortable,” a friend tells me.  

And I can feel something break down in that moment.  

In reflections in windows, I see it too.  

“He’s ugly,” she says.  But a soulless kind of ulgy.  A hopeless kind of ugly.  

A concrete knowing, something never coming undone.  Scathed and raw. Arching your back in the moonlight.  Gross and misshapen.  

I could scream in the light of a full moon. 

Scream until your throat bleeds.  

Does it even matter?  What’s the difference now, between the good life you live and the sinful existence you want?  What good is virtue if it’s a struggle for you?  

Wouldn’t it be better to be real and rotten?  

No one’s even looking.  

Let em try it.  

Like a gun to the head.  

Some people don’t know.  How close it really is to the surface.  

Some things move in perpetual shadow.  

I can feel my teeth aching for something to sink into.  I can feel my lungs aching for something to soak up. I can feel my fingers itching for someone to caress.  I can feel my eyes aching for lines to follow, contrast to discern, colors to bleed.  

I can feel that 2 am phone call.  I can feel silence coming down like storm clouds.  I can feel something turning away in my chest.  

Steeped in night.  It seeps into my pores and mixes with the sweat oozing out, into the night air.  

The lights.  The sound.  

Moving slowly, as though in a dream.  Like when I was young, and I would wade into the surf.  

Wandering around in circles that spell out nothing.  

And then realizing, deep down, that nothing has changed.  That you’re still the same.  

On the train, the eyes like mine that look back.  No words, no nothing.  

I can lean my head back against the metal and feel every shudder and shake.  

It’s just pain and then you die.  

Until then, you’ll go on.  Following it.

Something glimpsed through a door, a key hole, a window.  

Something never spoken.  

Something held secret.  

Something held dear.  


And never uttered.  

In Berlin

Over cobbled streets.  Through public parks and gardens.  Past large empty buildings, cold and ornate, like tombs.  By fences and plywood walls with advertisements for brothels and cigarettes. 

In Berlin, I quickly break vows.  My will, so strong back in New York, seems to buckle and disintegrate beneath the pressure of a new city.  

And Berlin feels that way – new.  It feels that way even as you pass the old buildings, with new scaffolds all around, harbinging a new spurt of construction that will bring new homes and new people to fill them.  

The art is new and fresh, too.  Not the shock that they sell on the streets or in the shops, but the tags and graffiti the kids put up at night.  

Some of it is even written in English – the new Latin.  

I find excuses to be alone and wonder where my feet will lead me.  For a moment I follow this person, then that one. And it’s not long before I’m just walking anywhere,  

And I could disappear.  

I think about how slippery of a slope it is, to go walking, and then have a thought just pop into your head that you could disappear in a place like this.  No need to let anyone know. Sell what you have and get a plane ticket.  

People must do it all the time.  

Never heard of again.  

Tell people a new name.  Tell people a new story. No one will ever know.  

The train comes surging into Stadtmitte.  I get on and watch the girl across the aisle who watches me, in between starts and fits of conversation with a friend.  

Down the platform and down the steps.  To the street. Where Tony and I stand, waiting for the gates to open.  

It’s an odd sensation.  

When I am alone, I walk and look for cracks.  For a place I might skip into, or through.  

From windows above, a child watches me.  

And people come and go around me as I pause to photograph some piece of vandalism.  Like an edying stream, they pass on.  

But the more I see, the more I look and take it in, the more I feel a need, welling up in my chest and clawing up my throat, to get out and shoot, shoot, shoot.  

Ideas need to be formed.  Projects thought up, sure.  But at the heart of that mania is an impetus to go out and do.  On shoestring budgets. Bartering if need be. And when everything else should fail, roaming the streets at night like a wild dog.  

Maybe at thirty I am already past middle age.  Maybe I don’t have all that long left to leave a mark, to reach someone, to be truly heard, seen, or felt.  

There is nothing to delay.  The important thing to do now is to keep shooting.  

No matter what comes.  

Every spare moment.  Every nickel and dime.  

And just keep shooting. 

Teeth Marks



There isn’t enough time in the day anymore.  

There isn’t enough room in the weeks or months or years.  I begin to feel claustrophobic, and move with a manic energy.  

A sickness.  

It knocks me out for days.  A full week.  

It’s a general feeling, one of degradation and corruption.  The feeling of being unable to breath, and coughing until I cough blood.  

Fall asleep with the lights on, wondering if someone’s going to find me dead.  

I have a sneaking suspicion there’s something very wrong with me.  

But I’ve always felt that way.  









At West 4th Street I keep looking for a dead rat, like the one I saw months ago, lying between the tracks.  While commuters stood by, waiting for a train.  

My boss tells me I should stop eating pork because some doctors somewhere found a parasitic worm in a woman’s brain.  

For a minute, I feel like telling him there’s worse shit in my brain.  

But why bother?  It’s always something with that guy – pork, cigarettes, or whatever else doesn’t fit inside the Muslim religion.  






Even as I get better, I begin to entertain notions of slipping back down the slop I just crawled back up.  

I think about how good it feels to feed addiction, and that kind of ecstasy I can only feel with the poison leaning in to take my last bit of life away.  

You know you’re a fucking addict when you have to face the prospect of an eternity without the thing you want most.  

Every moment from now on – in every room of every day, from the minute you wake until the darkness comes over you, that crushing crippling suffocating emptiness of never knowing it again.  Until you die and cease to feel anything at all. Just estrangement.  

Feel that.  

Counting money and cleaning up my too-large-and-too-empty apartment.  Standing naked in my living room late at night with the lights turned out, staring out at empty Brooklyn streets like a savage.




I make plans to visit my little brother and his wife and their daughters.  My boss makes plans to fly to Germany for a business trip. “What do you think?” he asks.  

Something to break up the monotony.  







The same day playing on repeat.  Wake up, get dressed. Go outside and sweat.  Walk to the train. Stare into space and try not to think about anything.  

Images images images.  

New ideas come about, as I sit back and count money inside my head.  

Pretty soon now.

Pretty soon now.  

And sitting next to me, the spectre of my addiction.  

Some dice to roll, some odds to beat, a vice to crumble beneath.  

Looks at a coworker I want to talk to.  But don’t know what to say.  

Give everyone the cold shoulder.  Nose down, minimal brain activity.  No jokes and no small talk.  

The day flies by and it’s back to the streets and subway.  

Then home.  To ramen and water.  Ramen and water. Ramen and water.  




If I get ten more years, I’ll spin it into twenty.  

If I get twenty more years, I’ll spin it into forty.  

If I get half the chance, I’ll piss it all away to feed that addiction again.  

I’ll die young, and sick.  You’ll see the teeth marks in my skin.  

Maybe they’ll say:  what a shame.


Everything Sucks

“It’s messy and complicated and it’s doing everything it can to just be a song.”

Garrett is talking about making music outside the store as I smoke a cigarette.  He’s waiting for his date to show up. I am waiting for I-don’t-know-what.

Finally my cigarette burns away.  I take a sip of coke and wonder how to excuse myself.  

And then Salma shows up.  

Read More

Out of Night

Rising out of night like a bad dream.

She introduced me to her boyfriend twice.

Why? I wanted to ask. Why would you do that?

Read More

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