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The Impossible Distance

I write things without knowing what I am supposed to do when they are done.  when I finished the first draft of Antiartists, I literally Googled "I finished my novel. What do I do now?" If I feel compelled to write for whatever reason, I always write first and figure out what to do with it after.  Sometimes these strange orphans find a home, sometimes they just wait until they come of age and then go out into the world alone.  This is one of the latter.  I don't remember when or why I wrote it, but I think it is beautiful and thought I would share it since it never got adopted.  It looks like a poem, and it is, but it is also a story.


The Impossible Distance

Off the late shift, walking and staring up at the stars, the impossible distance
Between me and them, them and each other
The impossible distance…

I worked, and I didn't speak to another person
It is the nature of the job, a simple thing soon to be automated
Soon I will be redundant.

At home awaits cold darkness, an indifferent wife
The heat has long left, gone
With the hope, and our belief in each other

A car sits parked, lights off, engine running, an anomaly,
Soft music, a hand resting on the sill,
I fix my eyes ahead; parked cars in the dark are none of my business

Kids smoking something illegal, maybe,
Or with roaming hands and mouths,
Breath on neck, hot flesh and desire

Lust or dreams, fire or peace,
These things are not for me,
These things are for parked cars in the dark.

I try to pass, to think of distance, of darkness
But a voice, soft and gentle
A warm whisper pleads Wait, please

The voice says Mercy, it says
Don't leave me alone.
It whispers, Please

I pause in my walk, I fear a trap, a honeypot
I fear faceless voices in the dark
I fear anomalous parked cars on my walk home

But the voice, male and soft
Needing but not expecting
I should ignore it, just keep walking

Home to my dark and cold house, my indifferent wife
But I don't, I stop, thinking trouble
Fearing danger.

Please, the voice says again
Just a minute, it says
Have mercy

And it is that word,
Mercy
That is why I turn back, why I stop contemplating impossible distances

I turn back; the car is dark inside
I look over my shoulder, see my own house
Dark inside there too

The voice in the dark says I am not dangerous
But of course that is exactly
what someone dangerous would say

Please the voice says again
A moment
Just a moment of your time

And I speak aloud; my voice sounds foreign
I haven't spoken to someone
In so long, so long

Who’s there I croak,
Who is that?
I peer into the dark.

The voice from the darkness, You don't know me
I don't know you either
We are strangers to one another

Strangers.
What my mother told me to never talk to.
But the voice said mercy.

I move forward, thinking no, thinking stupid
But I move anyway,
Wondering, not understanding, why

I hear soft music playing, strings, a soft croon
Unfamiliar rhythms and shifting tempos
Warm and beautiful

Will you join me, the voice again
Overlaid on the music,
It won't be long.  Please.

I thought I wanted to be alone the voice says
But I don’t, I can’t.
And there is only you, a stranger walking past.

You don't have to, says the voice,
I understand if you won’t
I understand this is unusual

I have a story and it will not be long
And I want you to carry it with you
I need someone to remember me.

Just a story the voice says.
Something to remember
That is all I have left.

And still thinking I shouldn't, I do
I walk around
I get in the car just like Mother told me not to

The soft voice is a man,
Pale and thin, lit green by the dash lights
He turns and smiles a sad tired smile

Thank you he says
Thank you
Thank you

Who are you
My unfamiliar voice creaks
What is this

That is me singing there, he says
A hand makes a vague gesture at the stereo
Do you like it?

Before I can speak he continues
I want to tell you a story
And time is short

He looks out the windshield and speaks
A pouring out of words,
A flow, a lazy river of words

My parents were religious, were zealots
Fundamentalists
And I was different than they wanted me to be

They sent me to camps as a kid
To try to fix me
Convert me into something they could stand

And I wanted to be what they wanted me to be
I tried, I prayed, to be fixed
But what was wrong stayed wrong, understand?

I stayed wrong and hated myself
And I began to hate them too
Love and hate at the same time like family does

And then they quit trying,
They quit praying for me, shut me out,
stonewalled, cold shouldered, silent treated

I was a broken unwanted sinner
And what was wrong kept being wrong
And I stopped trying too

And I started sinning for real
Sinning on purpose
Deliberate and willful

And it was a relief to stop pretending
A relief to finally be who I had always been
To be as I was created to be

It was a relief, and I came to realize
That I was not broken
That there was nothing wrong

And I found a life, years after making every mistake
I sang songs and loved
And I felt mostly whole again

I couldn't shake the religion of my childhood
Ingrained, ground in, indelible
When I was desperate I prayed.

If I was made wrong, then God made me wrong
And it could not be a mistake
Because God doesn't make them

And there were moments of sublime beauty
A sunrise, a silhouette against a window
And I thought there is God, right there

And I reached out to my parents
The fundamentalists
The absolutists, the black and whiters

I wanted to forgive them, to be myself forgiven
I wanted
To not be an orphan anymore

We are ashamed they said,
To have a son like you
Ashamed they said

He stops talking, turns to me lit green in the dash lights.
Why did you stop he asks, Why did you come back
And I want to have an answer but I don't

They never spoke to me again
He speaks to the windshield
And I never called them again

I buried it, my parent’s love
And their religion
Pushed it down inside, hid it in the darkness

And I think it grew he says
The hate, the grief, I think it turned into this thing
That has killed me

Words have weight
Some weigh hardly anything
For instance, grace. For instance, light

Some are as heavy as guilt
Metastatic,
Inoperable.

Some fall like stones
Alone.
Terminal.

He shudders, his voice slurs.
Why did you stop he says
Are you an angel?

I am just a man.
I stopped because of a word, wet with tears and blood
Mercy.

I took all these pills, he says and thought I wanted privacy
I thought I wanted to be alone
But nobody ever does in the end.

The words pour from his mouth
Sibilant and wet
They puddle on the floor

In the dark he takes my hand
It trembles, weak
It feels fragile, weightless

My parent’s God, he whispers,
Will judge me harshly
My parent’s God will condemn me

If I ever face God, he whispers
I'm going to ask
Why did this life have to hurt so much?

And on the stereo his song ends
And on this earth
His story ends too.

In the darkness I am alone again
And I whisper a promise:
I will remember you

And there are calls to make
Official things, and questions
That I will have no good answer for

But in the end there is nothing left
But to take his story, carry it with me,
And contemplate the impossible distance.



Still Writing, 
RP
7-31-18


I want to hear from you, so comment here, or follow me on Twitter @RDPullins, or on the pestilent diaper fire that is Facebook.  Be kind to one another, please. Forgive, both yourself and those that have wronged you. Display mercy.  

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