Archive for August, 2015

Dead People

Posted in My Poetry with tags , on August 20, 2015 by sethdellinger

Their reward is
they become innocent again

and when they reappear in memory
death has completely erased
the blurs, and given them boundaries.  They rise

& move through their new world with clean,
clear edges.  A man I knew–a very troubled man
who died a very troubled way–in particular has become
buoyant, unattached finally from

his histories, from the trappings of a story,
from the trappings of his drugs
and he waltzes again through the world
with firmly defined edges
in the way only dead people
and babies can do.
Sometimes I think I see his unkempt goatee
in a crowd of people and I catch my breath.

I think they all walk among us–
not literally but somehow–
wearing graduation gowns and mortarboards
breathing the air incredibly deep like drowning people
and repeating three things over and over:
‘Again’, ‘Again’, and ‘Again’.

Every Direction is North

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , on August 12, 2015 by sethdellinger

I haven’t written about my addiction or my recovery for quite some time now. There was a time when it was by far my favored topic, but having been sober for twelve years now, the immediacy of it has faded, and I started to run out of new ways to write about it. And also it just gradually became a part of who I was, I no longer had to think about not drinking or how strange my past had been, because sometimes the past gets so long ago, it’s like it happened to somebody else.

However, since moving to Harrisburg, a few things keep pushing it back to the front of mind. (if you aren’t familiar with my story. here’s what’s relevant to this post: the day before I got sober, the rehab I was in dropped me off at a homeless shelter in Harrisburg, I spent all day walking around the city, ended up drinking, then got sober for good the next day.  I wrote detailed posts about it.  Part one is here and part two is here.) Karla and I now live just a few blocks away from the Bethesda Mission, the homeless shelter I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in. I also frequently walk past the Midtown Tavern, the last bar in which I ordered a drink, the last place I relapsed. Looking back to the version of me from that day, to the me that walked around the city of Harrisburg, for hours and hours and hours, contemplating what to do with his life, and then  to the me now, it is just a boggling and staggering transition. When I put myself in the shoes of that man, that poor, sad 25-year-old man who saw no way out, who somehow thought that his life was over despite all the options still left open him, I feel as though I am peering into the window of another person’s mind; who was he? Where has he gone? He was so troubled but I love him.

We’ve lived here for about four months now, but it was just last week that I for the very first time rode my bike over to the Bethesda Mission. I stood on the sidewalk where I made a phone call to a cab company that would take me to Carlisle, where I would get a room at Motel Six and drink my very last beers. The payphone is gone, but I found the holes in the wall where it had been anchored, and I stood in that same spot, and I felt the weight of time coalesce around me. I walked out to the curb, where I had stood on a much colder day twelve years ago, and waited what seemed hours for a cab to come. I remember there’d been an older man standing there with me, although he wasn’t waiting for a cab, and we struck up a brief conversation, but I don’t remember anything about it now. I looked around me and tried to remember what has changed in the scenery. Were the buildings different then? In some ways it seems so recent, but only the most fragmented memories remain.

Life isn’t a Hallmark card, and things don’t always turn out great.  Happy endings are not only the exception; they’re downright rare.  I don’t believe in any overarching system that raises humans out of the dungheap of existence–we live brief painstaking lives and then are thrust into a meaningless void.  But while we’re here, strange and beautiful things are bound to happen.  Time plays jokes on us but then draws back curtains we didn’t even know were there.  Suddenly we are standing beside younger versions of ourselves, older versions of ourselves, our loved ones, suddenly everything converges and every direction is north.  If it means anything I don’t know what it is; time is a wisp, a phantom, an unseen train in the night: the steady conveyance.  Versions of ourselves form, drop off behind us, vanish like they never existed.  Who were they?  We’ll never know them.

I stood there on the curb by the homeless shelter and looked achingly toward the house I live in now, just blocks away.  Only two more hours until Karla and our boy get home, and I was desperate to see them.


Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by sethdellinger

Despite the fact that it is an impossibility in this version of the universe, I sometimes imagine what it would be like to lose you.  It is, I understand, just a thought exercise.  But it is nonetheless intensely powerful, and a little debilitating.  The depth of sorrow I can experience in just these few moments alone with a hypothetical–it is indescribable.  You out in the wide world, somehow not in my orbit, no longer my anchor and my sail, and I am alone late at night (it is always late at night in this thought exercise) and I am always holding, for whatever reason, a corded landline phone, waiting for I don’t know what.
This isn’t a sad exercise; it’s glorious for reminding me that you are my lady, and you are a glorious lady.


Tonight I drove to the movie theater and back.  It wasn’t incredibly late at night; 9pm on the way there, close to midnight on the way back, but it felt much later than that.  The roads were empty and even Dunkin Donuts was closed, but the night had that great mid-summer heat and glow, as though the whole world had been swimming all day in a very chlorinated pool.  I saw the new Mission: Impossible movie and it was pretty good.  I thought about you and the way your jaw juts out a little bit–really it’s practically imperceptible–when you are worrying about something.  It’s a small glimpse into your inner universe.  It’s a magical moment, when I get glimpses like that.  I wish I was in there with you.

I was listening to a Seven Mary Three mix disc I’ve made myself and I had the song Favorite Dog on repeat.  The lyrics have nothing (or very little, or who knows, really?) to do with me or us, but the dirge-like buildup and dreamy crescendo and Sisyphean lyrics bled into my ruminations.  That’s my other hand, open and empty. It wants one too, I guess. That’s my other jaw, swollen and shameless. It talks too much, I know.


The neighborhood we live in is pockmarked; pockets of new buildings, swaths of blight, dozens of playgrounds: some new, some disgusting.  Office buildings and squalid churches and a new-ish Red Cross headquarters.  It doesn’t know what it wants to be, this neighborhood, although I’m confident some day it will sort everything out.  For now it’s enough that we live here, together, and our neighbors are nice and we have a huge bathtub and don’t worry about much and it’s a safe neighborhood.

There seem to be more people on motorized wheelchairs than I see elsewhere.  And chicken bones; a lot of people seem to eat chicken wings here and leave them on the ground, which is strange.  But the ice cream truck stops many places, and frequently, and plays cheery tunes with that twinkly horrible bell.  Sometimes when you’re up in bed, I slip out the front door and buy a cone.  They are creamy and luscious and melt down my hand by the time I’m back inside our air conditioned living room.

Last week we were driving down Harris Street toward Sixth and, outside an old barber shop that I had assumed was no longer in business, there were dozens of chairs sitting on the sidewalk; perhaps ten recliners, maybe three or four dining room 1chairs, and a few folding chairs.  At first we thought some small event was taking place, but as we pulled up beside them, it was obvious they were for sale.  Just chairs.  We were incredulous and we laughed and were baffled.

A few days ago I was walking our dog and just a few blocks from our house I came upon an old wooden chair that had been partially disassembled.  It sat boldly on the corner of the sidewalk as though it belonged there; I couldn’t help but remember the barber shop of a few days before.  I thought to myself, we live in a neighborhood of chairs.  I know this is nonsense and is not meaningful, but it sounds meaningful.


…and they’re barking at me, yeah they’re working on me, just like my favorite dog.  Geronimo!  Look out below!  I love that rusty water like it was my favorite dog…


Much, much more than most people (I assume) I become instantly and strongly aware that I am a creature scurrying across the outer crust of a planet in the massive and unpredictable universe.  You know how, in science fiction movies, sometimes the protagonists land on a planet they weren’t prepared for, and when they step out onto the surface, it is often something recognizable to us but also partly mystifying and different, and you think how you’d like to explore that world, see how it works?  I am frequently struck by that sensation on our own world.  From our current house, I need only walk six blocks to be standing beside the Susquehanna River–massive amounts of water which has all found its way into one spot, moving along together, flowing, flowing, never stopping, against a backdrop of a blue atmosphere and low mountains dappled with bushy green trees.  I’m on a planet, I think to myself, and nearly faint.

A few months ago I was at my father’s house out in the country when an especially intense weather pattern blew through the area and I stood outside with the neighbors, watching in awe as a tornado almost formed in the farmer’s field across the road. The massive dark and white clouds were moving faster than I could have imagined, swirling into and out of each other, turning 11148570_10206509552443317_4647072801334266283_oon end, pitching and yawing, an intricate dance choreographed by pressures beyond my ability to fathom, powers pulled from even beyond the Earth but the laws of the universe itself.  Suddenly the pressures above turned their powers toward us and a gush of air was blown directly down, the strangely warm air like a very strong wind blowing at the ground.  A gargantuan black cloud passed over our heads so close it was almost fog, and so fast it was almost an airplane, and then in an instant, it was gone, had moved past us, onto the next crop of onlookers elsewhere.  As I walked inside I said to my father in the living room, I have never felt so much like I was on a planet!  As I was walking out to the kitchen to get a drink I heard him reply I already know I’m on a damned planet! 

Just a few days ago, my dear, we were driving on one of these lengthy but truly scenic highways that Central Pennsylvania supplies us with by the dozens, and when we rounded a bend, we saw the light coming through holes in a cloud, we could see the light’s rays dancing on the air, and we could see it land, slantingly, on the nearby bulbous mountaintop, lighting individual treetops.  It almost looked like a forest fire was raining from the sky.  I was breathless and you let me take your hand and you let me be amazed and you were amazed with me, here on the surface of this world.


…that’s my other head, open and bleeding, it thinks too much, I guess. That’s my other eye, swollen but fearless. It’s seen too much I know.  Geronimo!  Look out below!  I love that rusty water like it was my favorite dog…


It’s enough–it is so much more than enough–that your hair falls across your ear the way it does when you lay on the couch.  How you sigh after a long day’s work: it is tired but determined.  It is so much more than enough the way you always offer me water when I walk in the door, it is so much more than I ever would have asked for.  The way that your lips taste, always so sweet, like you had just put a dab of sugar on them, even that is all I need, all I could ever need, here in our neighborhood of chairs, here on the surface of our planet.


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