the philosophy of gerunds (my mother is dying)

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be

“little prayer,” Danez Smith

my mother is dying

this is what the doctors have told us
first with qualifiers—“likely” and “probably”

later in hushed tones and ominous language
punctuated with “untreatable” and “stage 4”

if she were younger or healthier (they add)
maybe treatment could gain her another year or two

in hospitals we play these very human verbal games
ignoring the philosophy of gerunds in our living and dying

my mother has a timetable now but hers is no different
than the fact of being human that is living as dying

her cancer and two to six months come in the wake
of a stroke that doctors said could happen to anyone any time

my mother has been reduced to a macabre real-life allegory
about living and dying as two sides of the same human coin

the price we pay for living is the inevitable dying of course
and we have no way to know how much or how long

but we are living always aware of the dying on the other end
dancing and wrestling as we are with living in parentheses

my mother is dying

i sit beside her in my living as dying smiling
and offering soothing words against her incoherence
words any reasonable person would recognize as lying

—P.L. Thomas


‘Merica (Charles Manson is dead)

“to watch the TV screen for any length of time is to learn some really frightening things about the American sense of reality”

James Baldwin

Charles Manson is dead.

Michael Brown is in the ground, found guilty and sentenced to death in three minutes by Officer Darren Wilson.

In ‘Merica where “Atticus was right” because Atticus Finch is white.

College quarterback Baker Mayfield is being punished for grabbing his own crotch while playing football.

In ‘Merica where voters elected Donald Trump:

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything….Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

In ‘Merica where Roy Moore can’t go to the mall but may go the Senate, carried on the shoulders of white evangelical Christians.

Who believe some 14-year-old girls can look 20.

Charles Manson is dead. Allowed 83 years to die of natural causes.

In ‘Merica where Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Tamir Rice were executed like Brown in the ground for living while young, black, and male.

This browning of ‘Merica, drowning of ‘Merica.

O say, can you see: ‘Merica is browning. But the oven is overheated.

‘Merica is blacking out from the smoke because the kitchen is on fire.

While the man-child emperor is Tweeting.

Charles Manson is dead.

Like ‘Merica.

—P.L. Thomas

Conversation 17 (equal parts unhappy and sad)

I didn’t think, I didn’t think of you

“Half a World Away,” R.E.M.

But I will not spill my guts out

“Slipped,” The National

How do you feel?

My back hurts.

You know what I mean.

I know. But I hate that question. It’s exhausting. Children in Texas were shot in church.

So you feel exhausted?

I feel equal parts unhappy and sad.

Those aren’t the same thing?

Sadness is being completely aware you exist. Unhappiness is feeling as if you don’t exist.

What do you mean?

I am sad about all the ways I am not enough, the inadequacies that make me who I am, that make me expendable, forgettable. Unhappiness comes with things not given, never even considered, things taken away.

Taken away. By whom?

People, the universe. Unhappiness is the gradual contracting of daylight minute by minute each day and then having time change. Yesterday’s 6 o’clock is today’s 5 o’clock. Darkness comes without any regard for you. Sadness is knowing it will happen, knowing it’s inevitable.

So there is no happiness?

There is the possibility of the absence of unhappiness. To know you exist, to feel fully that you matter.

You don’t matter? That’s how you feel.

Consequential. To be consequential. Like holding a warm round stone in the palm of your hand, closing your eyes, and not being able to ignore the weight of the stone in your hand. You walk into another room or run a thousand miles away, but the sensation of that stone stays in your palm and it matters. You couldn’t forget that stone if you tried.

And you don’t want to try.

So you want to be the stone.

I will always be sad but I want to stop being unhappy.

—P.L. Thomas


i’m sorry & i love you

i’m sorry. i love you

i’m sorry i love you

morning traffic is claustrophobic
& i miss your skin

you text me lyrics
so i play that song on the car stereo

but i cannot ignore
i am driving away from you

in your warm bed alone
with weird memories of me

us separated in the space
consumed by the claustrophobia of love

i’m sorry & i love you

i’m sorry. i love you

i’m sorry i love you

—P.L. Thomas

mirrors (we are monsters)

what do we do with ourselves
with all these mirrors
like the faces of starving children
watching us eat ourselves full

what a relief to be a vampire
never having to face yourself
to see the monster looking back
eye to eye with your immortal self

what do we do with ourselves
with all these mirrors
like spent cartridges smoldering
on the hotel room carpet

—P.L. Thomas

exit wound

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings

awake at two
with nothing to do
blue without you

i’ve been drinking
while you’ve been thinking
about how to leave without leaving scars

we feel nothing properly inebriated
staring dispassionately at the exit wound
where a heart used to beat

risking a heart
is only the start
the hardest part

like waking after surgery

—P.L. Thomas

functioning (falling)

I’ve been tapping the table
I’ve been hoping to drink
“Empire Line,” The National

Oh, come, come be my waitress and serve me tonight
Serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon
“The Geese of Beverly Road,” The National

i drank enough to be okay but not so much
that you would notice i drank enough to be okay

“Brick” rhymes with “click”
but “Tennessee” doesn’t rhyme with “Williams”

“sometimes you have to step off the ledge
before you realize you have always been falling”

i say to you when you tell me
you cannot do this any longer

this sitting for hours and hours
at bars taphouses and breweries

this kindness of waitstaff on autopilot
bringing seemingly endless pints of beer

“Brick” rhymes with “click”
but “Tennessee” doesn’t rhyme with “Williams”

“falling in love is like being in love
like catching your breath is breathing”

but i have never been swayed by the testaments
of sober people teetotalers and the converted

do you hear it do you hear it do you hear it
i think but never say aloud with you near

“Brick” rhymes with “click”
but “Tennessee” doesn’t rhyme with “Williams”

i am falling i have fallen and i will hit the ground
relaxed as a drunk man on his favorite barstool

as long as i am somewhere i am not just there
everything is about this sanctuary you

but habits die hard even when drowning
like sitting here forever or slipping quietly out the door

“Brick” rhymes with “click”
but “Tennessee” doesn’t rhyme with “Williams”

you knew some things when you pulled up a chair to my table
but you didn’t know everything you couldn’t know everything

don’t play Rummy Scrabble ® or Monopoly ® with a drinker
because your eyes remain focused on the game

and before you know it you have been sitting there for hours
lubricated by the kindness of waitstaff on autopilot

and the background music softly lulling you
into singing the refrain to yourself with a smile

“Brick” rhymes with “click”
but “Tennessee” doesn’t rhyme with “Williams”

—P.L. Thomas