from Self-Help Poems
by Sampson Starkweather

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When I was little everything hurt. Not like it hurts now, not like spikes or iron lodged into my skin, it was more like the opposite of a kite, a premonition, like déjà vu before you’ve learned the word, like finding your Christmas presents in the closet. Whenever I felt cheated or disappointed my dad would say “that’s life in the big city.” He said it with a kind of glee that made me want to punch him, but even coming from bum-fuck North Carolina, I knew when I grew up, I’d live in that city.

When my dad ran for office, the good old boys slandered him by saying he was a communist and that his son was a poet in New York City. They said it with a venom in their voices that produced a chemical pleasure upon release. When I first heard it, it gave me the chills— is it possible to reach our dreams and not even know it?

I saw Mickey Rourke on Charlie Rose last night. He was being held back in his naivety that art was about artistry. Doctor’s told him he was one punch away from having his life ended, but something wouldn’t allow him to give up. His therapist told him he was in a hopeless situation, but still had hope. All humans aspire to the condition of Mickey Rourke.

Nobody at the hospital believed me when I told them I got elbowed, they said it looked more like an axe wound. The blood matted in my hair made me look like the Predator, and I purposely left the dried blood on my face so the ER would treat me faster. The woman said it would be “a l-o-o-n-g wait.” I felt like a giant sitting in the waiting room in my little soccer uniform watching Dancing With the Stars as blood bubbled from my head. Several families got up and left and one woman kept whispering to her son not to stare. She was Latino and spoke to her son in Spanish when she didn’t want me to know what she was saying. She told him I was a bad man and he better not look me in the eye. Luckily for them, my eyes were glued to Belinda Carlisle.   

A woman with cancer wailed and moaned and rolled around like an animal, and a 20 year-old mulatto boy, whose face got sliced up in a knife fight and was told he would never smile again, refused to tell the cops who cut him. The doctors were stressed and sleep-walking, loved one’s walked around with expressions on their faces that were like those novels they sell in the airport. It was so clichéd and the way all time folded into the now, I wondered if we were all in a play. I was sad when they finally wheeled me away. The doctor said I was going to feel this, then pressed an industrial staplegun to my scalp and blasted three staples into my skull. I felt like Mikey Rorke in The Wrestler. But not in the Hamletesque depth-of-the-soul sort of way, just like some middle-aged dude shot full of metal staples.

I’ve always said Mike Tyson is my favorite poet. He was on Charlie Rose last night; he’s 42 years old now. At one point, when Charlie and some indie director were talking about art, he just blurted out the word “malice” out of nowhere, as if it was something he had been thinking about for years, and just remembered. Everyone at the table looked as if they thought their life might be at stake. Mike leaned back and smiled. There is such a thing as genius of experience, the genius of victimhood, the genius of shame. Then again, a man ain’t nothing but a man.

Somalian pirates are all the rage today. Everyone gets so fascinated by pirates, maybe it’s because of Johnny Depp or Disneyland. It’s one of those words that is its own idea. One of those words that is able to take us out of our lives, to temporarily save us. No one is immune to the allure of adventure on the high seas. It’s okay as long as it unfolds on NPR, as long as it remains an idea or a fantasy. We are poised for attack. We are the Kings of the fucking sea.

There is this scene at the end of Season 5 of The Wire where out of nowhere, Namond is arguing about AIDS in Africa as a member of his high school debate team. I couldn’t stand where the writers went with this— it’s not that it was too easy or the redemption angle was too over-wrought, it was more the lack of gray scale. Truth is, I never had that much sympathy for Namond’s character, but for some reason, seeing him up at that podium, reciting all those AIDS stats, I started to cry and I couldn’t stop.

The perfect drug is one you only experience once, and the rest of your life is spent chasing that feeling. After McCain’s concession speech I didn’t think I could get any higher. But when he was standing in front of 100,000 people talking about the transitive properties of hope, it felt like I was at a once-in-a-lifetime rock concert. The movie we had all been waiting for was finally before us and impossibly, was better than we imagined, and with each newly delivered line, it kept getting better. There, sitting in my car in the dark, listening to that voice coming from the radio, I achieved absolute belief, and it had nothing to do with politics or humanity or any of that shit, it was simply the fact that language did this.