Starlit Speculation – This is Charlie Zero

Introduced to Björk and Tori Amos at the age of eleven, and remembering echoes of of a swarming crowd as Shirley Manson stated, “I’m only happy when it rains,” I’m difficult to unnerve through words, medical terminology, and images I hope will prompt more than just some kind of lucid, false, epileptic seizure.

Perhaps the challenge in impressing me lies in my affinity for the experimental, cracked into three large shards. Charlie Zero’s This Robot Dreams Inside a Plastic Soul stirred my intrigue as the sun prods an amusement park worker to wriggle in his four-legged, alpaca wool suit. I snuggled into the blankets covering my macintosh red futon, took a minute or so between pieces, and thought, “Damn, Charlie. I’d imagine LSD does come to a halt, but I’m not quite ready.” For the record, I’ve never tried LSD.

Charlie’s writing reminds me of wind chimes that clang out of nowhere in the summer heat, doorbell melodies that warn me I’m entering the home of a prolifically artful eccentric. I don’t know what to expect, conversing with a local historian about “tarot-cards & playgirl magazines” I’ve never taken more than a glimpse at, or a “virtual console” commanding fine-tuning by those long departed. The allusions run unbridled, as read in “Witchcraft Acidhead 23.” Grammatical devices, the marriage of the supernatural Ouija with universal Apple products, and an image of Edgar Allen Poe stuffing the macabre into his DDT heart, It seems anything and anyone stands around to grab the microphone, announcing standard grievances, pointing out that CNN should be taken with a grain of salt, that institutionalization confines more than young girls admitted out of parents’ concerns that they may be too hormonal. Charlie Zero assembles dismantlement to encourage us to question what’s heard and said, while navigating local alleys, gathering others interested in communal innovation while acknowledging the stagnancy that sets our minds on fire.

Charlie toys with form and language like people I see on the Travel Channel acquainting themselves with flower arrangements. Nothing’s quite symmetrical, yet the juxtaposing hues encapsulate readers in a curious glow. “I didn’t know this was a medical term! What could it possibly mean? Would I hear it at my next doctor’s appointment?” These are questions I asked myself as I breathed in the smoke trailed by thirty-five poems.

Now, back to the three large shards. This Robot Dreams Inside a Plastic Soul invites you to do your own research, opening dictionaries, finding encyclopedias at your nearest discount bookstore which directly pertain to Twentieth Century pop culture, and beyond. The collection offers more than trance, illustrates complexities more intricate than tangled arms and legs in an urban club scene. In Charlie’s synthesis of the bright, historical, and contemporary, we read what it means to be eclectic. Lines such as “Arachnid gods/ registered virtuoso/ T-minus 1” sends us jolting, neck hairs raising as if our fingers almost pricked the shine of an open lamp socket. Again, I emphasize eccentricity, but not as a term describing a human. The poetry collection, though fierce in its delivery, does not settle itself centrally. See Charlie’s work as an ever spinning globe, continental tenants shouting insults they’ll one day take back, digging their fingers into the clay on which they stand, giving Pangaea one more chance.

This Robot Dreams Inside A Plastic Soul ignites fury, anxiety, and hope in the midst of a changing society that in retrospect, may not have changed so drastically should we consider human faltering. Nonetheless, it is a thoughtful read, pushing us to wonder what we truly think about the world and people who cross our path as we walk, confined by our Ziplock exteriors.

Charlie Zero’s collection of poems remains available in paperback, through Paypal. Do follow his adventures in writing at his blog, filled with starlit speculation.

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Back-To-School Shopping

I threw my shoes in a rusted trashcan. The one that accepted empty water bottles unconditionally, though the can for recycling stood less than a foot away. Two years old, with holes at the heels. Indeed, the passing of time suggested that like most women at crowded bus stops (the ones loudly pleading for their children to be quiet as they finished their back-to-school shopping), I would never pay my debts as a foot model. My hammertoe, bumpier still, would never traumatize those poor men waiting for hours at the urgent care clinic. Nor would my ingrown toenails command a second look as teenagers bitched in packs, walking home from the magnet school.

I always insisted that flats didn’t hurt. But Lori, with her Sharpie, had points to make as she traced around my calluses. I just returned home, in front of the Travel Channel, which reminded me that if I cared enough, I could seize a promotion and finally, buy gray plaid shoes with memory foam so I wouldn’t ache so much. Lori just wanted to remind me of ways in which I was cruel. Mainly, to my bones, and the scarred fishtails on which I stood.

Teenagers, again, walked before my indifference. Commercial after commercial, best friends smiling with those huge retro headphones blaring in some department store. I argued with Lori that it didn’t matter, that my toes were less than ordinary and life could be lived barefooted. She laughed, mentioning downtown potholes.

I conceded, seeking heels.

Refusing to Die – Oneanna65’s About

For sale on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback.

Cancer. The frenzied multiplication of cells, here, there, anywhere, really. Most of us have met at least one person with cancer, perhaps experienced the deaths of several afflicted. I often think of chemotherapy, isolation, strict diets, dramatic weight loss and other complications to sadden, aggravate, and sour. But I’ve never heard anyone, at least in person, discuss his or her experiences with cancer so candidly as to mention the “doughnut machine” when recalling the day’s radiation session.

Oneanna65, as she prefers to be called, combines memory, poetry, social media, recipes, and faith-guided introspection in her self-published book, About. She’s been a fighter since childhood, though positive in her outlook. From the autobiographical start, to poetic revelations, and excerpts of her most memorable blog posts, she has you not only rooting for her, but thinking, “Wow, this is perseverance.”

We see perseverance in just one of many bits of reflective commentary:

“For one clean wine bottle I would buy a sweet bun. If I could find 10 bottles and make two trips to the recycling shop, I could buy sweet bun, candy, lemonade, and I could go to the movies.”

The author lived a life I’d call chapped by poverty, absent fatherhood, and several childhood tragedies. In 1978, she made the transition to Chicago from communist Poland, evading the predatory motives of her already-married sponsor but knowing, as one seeking refugee status, that she could never simply return. This isn’t the only large transition. Throughout About, we learn that the author:

– Spent much of her life as a limo driver, encountering the strange, normal, sweet, and mean.
– Found herself in a homeless shelter.
– Caught herself in the disappointment of one stressful job after another.
– Continues to experience serious health problems, which About primarily discusses.

Despite all this, Anna keeps going. An impoverished child with a dogged will that persists across the decades. A scene I found most memorable was the one regarding church. Attending church was fine, until Anna was hungry. Her mother would hand her money to give to the local priest, but when Anna needed to eat, she never hesitated to walk to the bakery. She describes her lack of guilt in a way that’s admirable, and logical. She came to the conclusion that God loved her, and would continue to love her, even if she bought herself a piece of bread, rather than offer the prominent church leader the weekly tithe.

Anna’s forwardness in thought and action is a feature that manifests repeatedly. A woman experiencing a breakup gets into the limo, expressing her want to die. While similar scenarios I myself have witnessed were prolonged as bystanders thought of how to be polite, Anna never hesitates. She talks about her own relationship problems, acknowledges she too wanted to die, but says she’s overcome. And if Anna can do it, so can the girl. I thought the scene would explode with some diatribe, a rant about “You not knowing me.” But Anna made a friend, and treats us to another story of an ever-smiling girl in a wheelchair, thrilled that she can finally get inside the limousine, without help, in spite of multiple sclerosis.

This isn’t the only scene that displays Anna’s greatest strength as a storyteller: illustrating contrasts. Again, I’ll go back to her childhood memories. “Half-an-orphan.” This was a term Anna often heard growing up without a father. “But I’m whole!” she insists, and discusses the greater suitability of the word “father-free.” While the circumstances of their relationship dishearten, Anna assures us that there were positives out of this, recalling some often socially condoned practices she witnessed in the lives of her friends with “complete” families.

Aside from the autobiographical, Anna addresses the nutritional. A recipe for chicken soup, and a resigned acknowledgement that yes, while it’s healthy, one can tire of chicken soup. So Anna drops suggestions to diversify the meal. If you’re not familiar with her blog, you’ll find some insights on health, the brain, and food. Regarding the neurological, Anna comments:

“…our cells don’t have a brain, they listen to our thoughts and do exactly what we are thinking.”

In the beginning, she shares this quote:

“From every wound there is a scar, and every scar tells a story. A story that says I have survived.” – From Words of Wisdom – Mhar.

Anna asks not for sorrow towards her struggles, but invites us to live with optimism, faith, receptiveness to health, and renewal of the will.

As a reader, I learned that foods like tuna, pomegranate, red wine, and bok choy have cancer-fighting properties, and are worth researching. And as a blogger, I smiled reading Anna’s recollections of advice to use WordPress over other site-building services, the time she encountered a nasty commenter, and her declination to use the polished “About” statement recommended to her. Anna does mention several times that her English is not the best, but I find the imperfections invaluable to the work. It made the book absorbing to read and reminded me of books read to my third grade class from our audibly Ukrainian teacher. I admired that she was willing to share the intricacies of her ailments, explaining how writing can be a physically taxing feat. She even mentions it when explaining the lack of punctuation in her poetry. Like the foods Anna recommends we eat, About is fairly organic.

And that’s the lovable aspect of About. It’s natural, blunt, unhindered, though comforting. Ultimately, positivity lies within you. Praise, encouragement, and sunlit brunches are appreciated gestures, but in the face of adversity, no one can will yourself to wake up and live other than yourself. Anna lives, and keeps on living.

There stands the neighborhood.

I walk,
pace,
and search.

styrofoam cups
caked in spoilt dairy.

but rather,
Bacardi rolls
in the key
of E minor.

you appreciate no sadness
while I anticipate
a respectable shunning.

gates of steel
and shutters bright green.

structural integrity.

your dream,
in one square mile.

so indulge me,
in stories without a plot.

tell me,
where I’d fit in.

*Cat No. 21 of the 500 Cats Project

Aggression and Theory of Mind – Robert Sapolsky on the Uniqueness of Humans

Robert Sapolsky’s Stanford University lecture touches upon ways in which humans are similar to other living beings, like primates such as the chimpanzee, or small domesticated pets. Your childhood hamster, Tex. Though we may not at all be unique in terms of genes and basic neurology (I learned this on a summer trip to the Smithsonian, reading a chart which pointed out that humans share a great proportion of genetic similarity with the banana), Sapolsky emphasizes that humans possess uniqueness in regards to empathy.

Sapolsky makes a notable comparison concerning aggression. He remarks that like us, male baboons can kill their own kind in a cold, calculated fashion (as we have seen in historical examples of the Holocaust and actions of Pol Pot’s regime). Fraternizing in a group called a “border patrol,” these animals will relentlessly kill other baboons from a nearby group. I have never committed murder, but I can attest that when highly aggravated, I can act in ways that many would deem “uncivilized,” or even “animalistic.” The same can be said for many other humans. In middle school, I got into a share of fights with students I shared disagreements with. My home life was rather turbulent, and I can recall several physical altercations between myself and my mother. Though I myself did not initiate the altercations, I felt so threatened by her actions that I retaliated to a certain extreme. At the time, I didn’t care, nor think about the consequences of what I was doing, but I felt I had to protect myself. Now, when my guidance counselor learned of several of these incidences, I was told that even though my mother treated me horribly, I had no right to do what I did, as “She is your mother, and the way you acted was like a junkyard dog. Is this how young women act? Are you a young woman, or an animal? You’re fifteen. Not seven.” Even in the face of ongoing abuse, I noticed that I was expected to act complacently, turn the other cheek, and be the “better person.” I often wonder if the woman who reprimanded me would have practiced the inaction she proselytized in disdain for my behavior.

Sapolsky moves on to the theory of mind chimpanzees possess, versus secondary theory of mind only we humans employ in daily interactions. Chimpanzees’ theory of mind is rather rudimentary: an understanding that one chimpanzee has information that the observing chimpanzees do not possess. The observing chimpanzee must do everything in his power to get that information, regardless of the harm or disadvantage inflicted upon his peer. On the other hand, the secondary theory of mind that governs human interaction encompasses empathy, the “Golden Rule,” and social norms which constitute a common culture. Using these tools, we, unlike animals even as similar as the chimpanzee, are able to appreciate issues of morality discussed in books such as Crime and Punishment. We participate in time consuming projects after which rewards may not immediately come to fruition (Personally, I am currently working on an article to submit for publication that requires a great degree of data collection and a frustrating amount of statistical analysis).

Although we, like the chimpanzee, are very much driven by physiological wants, we are also able to delay gratification to further work on tasks at hand. It’s a rather unique ability, and while humans can be pretty terrible to each other, the capacities Sapolsky speaks of not only contribute to the structured society we live in, but enable us to move onward. Think, act, innovate. Maybe it’s a blessing, a curse that only complicates, or possibly a tool to use of your own volition, in light or dark. I can say for certain that I’ve never heard of a chimpanzee who blogs.

Go away.

she thinks I am cute
but for her, I cannot say the same
I crouch and retreat
in disinterested anticipation
for church will soon let out.

children, soccer moms, terriers
and rattles, dolls of the squishiest plush
I like these
the latter, not the former
because it’s too cloudy for all that noise.

she steps closer, that frequency
“Hey cutie!” “Hey loser.”
I know you’ve told your friends
you’re off to read at the library
though it’s only me you care to study.

*Cat No. 11 of the 500 Cats Project

Miss Ottava Rima

shortly morning came to ever daring Patch
while babies mewed in circles, purely in cult.
skipping ‘cross blackened roads, tugging on my sash
apron brims with paper, food for the adult.
I rummage through my bag, reading of the clash
eggs now cracked on solid ground, meat for insult.
Patch looks over shoulders, asking who will creep –
Dandelion summers, when all oversleep

*Cat No. 10 of the 500 Cats Project