Live at The Sickhouse

by Stephen Lin Poetry

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Recording of my tour kickoff show at The Sickhouse, an awesome house venue in Pittsburgh PA inhabited by good friends and (ostensibly) good people.


released December 24, 2014

Thanks to John Paul Zigterman for recording this, and thanks also to Trevor, Ben, Michael, Britt, Ivan, and Jackson




Stephen Lin Poetry Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The poetics of parallels and intersections, collisions and contrasts.

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Track Name: Credits
Created by an unbalanced particle in the primordial white noise
and a vaguely foreign sounding last name

Executive produced by a subsidiary of a multi-national corporation –
formerly a logging company –
before that, white ash trees surrounding a clearing
where people used to fuck each other's brains out,
bash the same brains against rocks
while the next generation watched
waiting their turn, told
“when you're old enough”

Directed by a drug-induced gut feeling.
Directed instinctually without editing.
Directed by asking random people on the street,
“Do we make conscious decisions
is art a way to give ourselves choices
and feel how being human should feel?”

Produced on a budget
well below the poverty line.
Track Name: A Story
This is the beginning of the story,
when there isn't a story.
Pages haven't flipped like seconds
no longer ticking.
Was there comfort in the sound?

And then you're rolling downhill.
dirt cold as shade, cold as wet fingers
and rocks flying everywhere. you were
from the descent of your boulder,
from your perpetual zenith.
You'll feel the stone against you again.
I promise.

I'll see her again: I used to
want to every day.
a cold sunrise every morning, it was just
so much light in a window.
I almost fell out of bed to meet her.

I fight against entropy. I laugh
and stay angry. I fight and argue with myself.
I shout a poem in my living room,
burn it in my kitchen.
I leave the exhaust off so that smoke
will stain the walls.

I fight against death and feel nothing,
becoming a dead thing myself, blank-faced
at the funeral, the quietest one there for
months, I lie in the softest inertia until
I can only see the end but keep going
just faster

the stone spins on a finger.
It wobbles as it slows.
it starts to feel rough against your skin
like you were waiting for.
It'll drop.

In the end there's no story.
Nothing is learned.
A papercut.
Flip the book over.
Tear the pages out,
press them into rocks.
Track Name: So I Waited for You
So i waited for you
to learn what being stood up feels like
because a canceled plan never leaves the house
because i can stay alone for hours
and no one wonders at the empty chair

So i waited for you
fantasizing about small talk,
our smiles and silences,
learning the kinetics of disappointment
the translation of potential energy to awful

So i waited for you
hoping you'd show up
unable to ignore the pedestrians in the window
as every car that passed made me wonder
what kind of car you drove.

So i waited for you
if just to be disappointed
if just to feel something
if just to be able to write this poem

i left it on the table,
with the second coffee i didn't drink.

the crumbs that i played with and flattened
drew pictures

i asked them to leave it all there
waiting for you.
i had an expensive meal,
i wanted to leave you the bill

I ended up paying up front.
i left a big tip.
i picked up this poem from the table
knowing you'd never see it.
Track Name: Leaves and Leaving
Listen: in the meditation of the breath
the nose talks noises to incense
a jasmine prays, swaying in rapture
and exhales something like “amen”

closed eyes tasted God, tasted the soul
like wet grass, the back of the throat
look: i was shoved by divine intervention
standing in the street reading a bible

and last night i forgot to be alone.
i talked love and history with a garden.
i drank the wine of morning dew,
broke stems as my daily bread.

leaves and leaving:
i felt the holy presence reaching for itself.

i felt whole as roots entwined through soil,
embraced across statelines.
Track Name: For S.S.
–For S.S.

I haven't thought about suicide since the last time I thought about suicide –

two days ago,
I fell in love with the Doppler effect:
incoming traffic blue-shifting the red light,
the frequency of the sedan's approach
ricochets between me and the bumper,
and the aluminum sky caught
my eye like everyone I've ever loved
I stayed still and
pretended my attention away.

I've been happy before –
I know what it feels like.
I'll be happy again –

I wish I believed that.

I'm always so tired,
always running a circular track in my brain.
Frantic pacing erodes into a trench,
a feedback loop and sound doesn't travel,
frequency upon frequency upon
(I'm not going anywhere.
thisisbullshit thisisbullshit thisisbullshit
I can hear my own voice bounce back at me
distorted into an anxious buzz
reverberating as I approach, following my footste-
(no one will plant flowers over your grave)

When people don't hear from me for a while
they clear their wardrobes,
pick lint from their blackest suits.

When I tell someone to put the gun down, part of me
wants to take it from them.
When I tell someone not to jump, part of me
forgets I'm afraid of heights.
When I tell someone not to overdose, part of me
loves getting high.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this
body is nutrient-rich and bullshit.

The part of my brain that loves itself is cracked –
full of it.

Someone called me cute today and
I kept seeing a smiling stranger in the mirror.

His teeth were crooked, but
he tried not to lie to me.
Track Name: Animals (Part 1)
"True, a great work takes up the question of its origins
and lets it drop. But this is no great work. This is a sketch
sold on the strength of its signature, a sketch
executed without a trial."
– Ben Lerner, The Lichtenberg Figures

my writing has lost the element of truth in it
capital T. the strength of a fire at night,
the weight of a creation myth. my writing is
cold, the way the Earth was before blankets,
planning so much for the trip
the actual departure feels like travel photos.

this is the element of self-discovery in poetry:
i'm never as happy as I think I am,
i'm never as in love as I think I am,
i think too much and it distracts me.
embers tattoo my arms and i only notice scars.
my flesh burns with an animal smell
but i pretend not to drool.

the detritus of biological machinery survives the post-apocalypse.
ghosts in the machine are sloughed by nuclear fallout
and some intuition makes me raise my head,
sniff the air,
watch mushroom clouds sprout like fungi
as I try to rationalize.

ashes whirl like a herd in migration.

i appeal to logic,
i appeal to thought's attempt to explain itself,
the head's attempt to join the heart:
calling after the herd as it leaves me,
"Do you feel me, people
Do ya feel me?"
Track Name: Animals (Part 2)
The most powerful works of art are born of necessity
a cartoon bee sells erectile dysfunction medication

in the commercial break between a mini-climax
and the powdery sketch of an overdose

a handgun is pressed into my solar plexus
a black face mask revealing only eyes and mouth
as if eyes and mouth are all that are needed,
I believed the urgency choking his words,
as if he were pleading

but im choking myself to feel a pulse
a sloppy heartbeat against the moment
of a poem.
Drugs can't help me get it up.
my self-consciousness is a flaccid
smears the honest release of poetry
tells the disappointing child
“We planned for you but I
love the accident of your brother.”

i promised myself into silence,
remembering the economy of language.
the absolute, unthinking calculation
of a bullet's trajectory
and the lyricism of my nervous babble.

i broke the silence to tell a joke.
the punchline emptied me.