Speakeasy

Dreams

are like speakeasies

for the soul.

A secret password

so you can enter,

unchecked moral boundaries

allowing you to trespass

and indulge freely

in the vagrant and illicit,

after hours

pressing

of bootleg vinyl

that places scorched scarabs

in the cavities of your ears,

years lived through

in minutes

as time becomes

the plaything of an organ grinder’s

fickle monkey,

and of course, groping,

lots and lots of groping in the dark—

Yes,

there is much to be said

for dreams as speakeasies

in which the soul comes to know itself,

outside of daylight’s mangled directives

and mass of hanged judgments.

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Girl, Flame

She is there. She is always there, in the corridor. And she is lonely. This much I know.

Lonely as a form of cold that you cannot cover with blankets or insulate against with coats and scarves and such. And you cannot wish it away with a lover, or three lovers, or a dozen. It is a different kind of lonely. This was the lonely that came from wandering in corridors for too long. For living a life, unseen, in corridors.

That is where I found her. Or how. Sometimes where and how are one and the same thing. She was a gauzy corridor I had walked through.

It was a corridor that was at once familiar and unfamiliar, eerie and serene. I traversed the length of this corridor, a length that was relative and subjective, and while I knew that this corridor connected to another corridor, which connected to other corridors, and there must be rooms that factored into this equation, this corridor held me as a country unto itself. A country with a single inhabitant. Her.

She had long dark hair and was of a slight build. Her back was turned to me, so I couldn’t see her face. She was wearing clothes, but I couldn’t see them. That is, I knew she had clothes on but for whatever reason they didn’t visually register. It was more like I had a sense that she was clothed. Only the long dark hair came through as a concrete visual.

Here’s how it went, every time. She’d walk to the end of the corridor—me following her, as if magnetized—and she’d turn the corner, and when I turned the corner I’d find that she was gone. Always, exactly, this way. The walking, the turning, the vanishing.

There was a fireplace in the corridor. Sometimes I’d sit in front of it. I’d sit there and enjoy its warmth and dream up stories that I would never write down nor share with anyone else. They were stories meant to keep me company. I knew the loneliness of the girl with the long dark hair. I knew it well. Wishes can burn your eyes out. In one of the stories, that was the moral: Wishes can burn your eyes out.

Even so, I always wished to see the girl again, walking along the corridor, turning the corner, disappearing. And I did. Again and again. It was like an infinitely repeating poem or song.

I don’t know exactly how many times I saw her—walking, turning the corner, disappearing—before realization, like a crystal spike, was driven through my forehead: The girl didn’t disappear. She became one of the flames in the fireplace.

This became the fourth movement in the sequence.

Walking down the corridor, turning the corner, disappearing, and becoming one of the flames in the fireplace.

Or, you could say there wasn’t really a fourth movement, but a revision of the third. Walking down the corridor, turning the corner, and disappearing via transmutation into one of the flames in the fireplace.

This changed my relationship to the situation.

Now, after she turned the corner, I’d immediately teleport to the fireplace (which was much faster than walking) and I’d see her there, a thin dancing flame red and gold along the edges, and cool blue in the center. She was there, swaying hypnotically, in sync with the concert of flames. She was a note, a precious and necessary note in a ritual score.

That was how I came to understand that her loneliness was a different kind of loneliness. Different from the different kind of loneliness I had originally attributed to her. Her loneliness was a gateway. And through it music could enter, and seed itself.

 What I still didn’t know was if she was a flame that became human, or a human that became a flame. Then again, it didn’t really matter. What is real, and what is true, are not always the same thing. Or they didn’t tell the same story, at least not in the same way.

I learned this from following a girl with long dark hair, turning a corner, who disappeared only to return as a flame dancing among other flames.

Kikoa. That is her name. This I learned just moments ago.

Yes, Kikoa, yes. I will continue to follow you. I promise.

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Portrait of a Man in a Hotel Room

The man in the white hat and white suit walked into a shabby hotel room, carrying a battered brown valise. It was a valise that had seen mileage.

The man opened the door, and then closed it behind him. He could feel the frizzy static of the ghosts from the corridor clinging to him. He brushed the left arm of his suit-jacket with his right hand, and then the right arm of his suit-jacket with his left hand, and then combed the front of his suit-jacket with the knuckles on both hands, and did this three times in succession.

Ghosts, he muttered to himself, as he shook the spectral residue from his hands and fingertips.

The man had a straight, lean build. Plank-like. His dark shoes were noticeably scuffed at the edges. His white suit, on the other hand, was well-pressed and remarkably clean. It was as if this was the first time he was wearing it, though he had worn it countless times. Not new, but new-looking. Some illusions were more manageable than others.

The man set the valise on the mattress of a bed with a creaky iron frame. The weight of the valise created an indent in the mattress. The man clicked two metal latches and opened the valise. He peered inside. There it was. The man smiled softly, with a measure of disbelief, and shook his head.

So much weight for such a small thing, the man thought, with a sort of reluctant or begrudging admiration for the thing he had been carrying. The man snapped shut the valise.

The man inspected the dirt under his fingernails. It made him think of moonlight. And sewage. Wasn’t that just the way of the world, his mind pinged back to him. A lot of moonlight and sewage, and what do you do with it? What can you do with it?

The man walked over to the sink, which was recessed into an alcove and had a mirror set above it. The man turned on the faucet. The running water sounded as if it were coming from a distance. The man raised his eyes. The mirror didn’t work anymore. When mirrors stop working, either you’re in big trouble or you’re free. Really and truly free.

The man made circular motions with hands as he rinsed them under a meekly pressured stream of cold water. He washed both the front and back of his hands thoroughly, then took down the hand-towel hanging from a brass ring posted in the wall next to the sink and dried his hands as thoroughly as he had washed them.

The man tried the mirror again, no dice, and hen returned the damp hand-towel to its brass ring.

The man walked over to the room’s only window, adjacent to the bed. He thought of looking out the window, but really it would be the same as looking in. There was no difference. He had learned that a long time ago. No matter where he was, no matter what the visuals or scenery, he could only see in. Seeing out was a function he had never developed.

The man remained motionless in the more or less center of the room, his torso pivoted, as he began to think about what he didn’t want to but had to do, his eyes pinned to the valise set like calculated mockery upon the bed.

In. Always in. What was in, or inside him, he saw, and to the rest of the world, blindness, vagary, lucid blankness.

The man suddenly wished he had brought his memo pad.

He could go to the lobby and ask the clerk for some paper, but he didn’t want to risk contact with the ghosts from the corridor. Plus, his legs were tired, and his eyes . . . it had been a long something. What? Day? Night? Week? Month? It had been long, whatever it was. Interminably long. Deathless. Yes, that was it. There was a deathless quality to the whole thing. God, he wished he had brought his memo pad.

The man broke from his stationary position in the more or less center of the room, and sat down in the room’s only chair, a wooden, straight-backed one that was set next to a desk. There was small lamp on the far left edge of the desk. It was unplugged. The man, while sitting, examined the film of dust coating the surface of the desk. The desk was a depleted brown and the dust-film added a fuzzy gray veneer to that brown.

The man used the tip of his index to trace a circle in the dust. And then other circles. Soon there was a series of interlocking circles. This was something. The pure geometry of dust.

The man was thirsty. And once he became aware of his thirst, he also became aware of his hunger. When was the last time he had eaten?

Seventeen days ago.

No, that wasn’t the last time he had eaten, but his sudden concern with time had caused him to remember that something had happened seventeen days ago, something significant which had changed the course of his life—that was why he had come here, to this room, where he was tracing connected circles in the thin skin of dust.

The man scratched insistently at his throat, near the Adam’s apple, as if this gesture would somehow alleviate his thirst. It didn’t.

He went over to the sink and turned on the faucet. He saw that there was a single glass, clouded over with smudges, turned upside down to the right of the sink.

The man filled the glass to about halfway with cold water, and drank it down slowly. He returned the glass to its upside-down position.

The man looked toward the door. It was a door. Moving on.

I need to sleep, the man said to himself.

The man removed his white hat and carefully placed it on the desk, covering up the circles he had sketched. He sat down in the chair and took off his shoes. He left them there, by the chair, askew.

The man lifted the valise from the bed and placed it on the floor, near one of the bed’s legs. He had to put the valise’s contents out of his mind. There was no use worrying. Moonlight and sewage, and what can you do about it?

The man considered taking off his suit-jacket, but then decided to leave it on. He lay down on top of the blanket on the bed, hands folded neatly across his chest, the portrait of an elegant corpse.

The mattress was thin and the man felt its sharp coils pressing into different areas of his back, a sort of mean-spirited acupuncture. So be it. Sometimes you had to lie down in beds with thin mattresses and malicious coils. The man was determined to sleep.

He would sleep and then awaken, refreshed and with a clear sense of purpose and direction. He intended to look directly into the swollen and discolored eye of what had happened seventeen days ago, and what he was going to do about it. What had to be done.

That was why he had come here. To this hotel, to this room, again. Always he had come here, and he was fairly certain that always he would.

The world belonged to people, and they to it, and the corridors belonged to ghosts, but this room, this room . . . yes, there was a place for everyone.

This notion worked like a lullaby sedative as the man grew drowsy, and drowsier still, before he fell into a deep, colorless sleep.

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In Wonder

As long as

there are little girls

with heart-shaped glasses

who are out there,

among the blackbirds and dandelions,

generously unwinding string

like floating rivers of silk,

as they put their butterfly-beating hearts

into the flying of a kite

on a windy spring day,

and as long as there are

mothers

standing nearby in the grass,

cheering them on,

speaking bright musical ribbons

of encouragement

which mainlines directly

into the butterfly-hearts

causing them to warm and flutter,

and the little girls

become equal parts sorceress and pilot

in commandeering sun-kissed flights

for the ages…

As long as there is this,

the world will continue

to exist as a marvelous fable,

restating its theme of simple joy

to a bated

and revolving audience.

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Flight of the Jackdaw

Grateful for the warm and heartfelt responses Izumi and I have been receiving to our recently released fable, The Jackdaw and the Doll. One of the reviews shared below:

THE JACKDAW AND THE DOLL is that rare book for children that also speaks to discerning adult readers, much like Shel Silverstein’s THE GIVING TREE, Ted Hughes THE IRON MAN, or many of the works of the great Theodor Geisel. This story is a rich fable that allows the reader to anchor themselves in a fairy tale while also experiencing a poignant truth. As writer and illustrator, John Biscello and Izumi Yokoyama make a profound team. Their synthesis of talents elevates this modest book to the level of a classic.
– THOMAS ROBERDEAU

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Urban Reflections

Brooklyn scene. Photo by Anthony Distefano.

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Flashpoint

Don’t you see,

you young foolish headstrong

man you,

only when the separation

between subject

and object dissolves,

only then

will you know

the passive, panting worth

of the world,

betrothed as phantom bride

to every intuitive seed planted,

where memory runs true

to its spectacle of origins.

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What We Can’t Measure

In a world

of agitated solos,

competitive streams

of ticker-tape bickering,

and relentlessly sharpened

points

of comparison,

it is comforting to know

that every single breath we take,

last to first,

is an uncomplicated gift

beyond measure.

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Jackdaw Now Available

I am excited to announce the release of The Jackdaw and the Doll. This dark and wonder-winged fable, which I wrote, was illustrated in ink-pen drawing and sumi-e by Izumi Yokoyama. And for those who are familiar with, and fans and supporters of Miss Yokoyama’s hauntingly exquisite artwork, Jackdaw marks her debut as a book illustrator. Jackdaw available here.

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In the Realm of Imagination

K., at home, in his sanctuary of a work-space.

From The Jackdaw and the Doll (written by John Biscello, illustrated by Izumi Yokoyama).

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