“What makes a man? A man makes himself” — Thomas Page Mcbee.
Over the blaring horns from the cars below I chop and chop. My hands are burning. My hands are raw steak, marinated in saw dust and blood.
I chop and chop. I chop. Chop. Chop. I persist. I don’t give up.
Up here on this roof top is where I make my claim. I can’t decide if it’s okay.
What is wrong with me?
My thoughts are interrupted by my mindless attempt to castrate the feelings flowing from the trunk of my body. I have a pile of wood, stacked against the wall, smelling of a distant forest fire.
His body is a mountain: Craggy scars and covered with moss. I watch him as he takes deep breaths. His entire body rumbles.
I’ve been awake for a while. The sheets on my side of the bed are wet. I woke up for something. I don’t know.
He sleeps, deeply, while I lay here, looking out the window at the yellowing twilight coming in through the dust on the window. I’m sure it’s close to 5 AM.
I drop the axe and kick it away. I look at what I have done and I think of the pine needles on his neck, the breeze between my fingers, the moss on his chest. I pant.
Every bone in my body aches. My hands sting. My back is wet. The scent of iron burns my nostrils.
Sunlight leaks through the buildings, casting a pale glow. A chill grazes my face. What I’m doing up here?
What am I looking for?
What I am isn’t who I want to be. I’m failing miserably.
I am a fallen tree. No one was around to hear me break. No one was around to hear the bark and veins snap across my trunk. No one was around to hear my hollow pleads for someone to stop the sap from bleeding.
“I don’t know what it is,” I say.
“You do. You do know. You’re spending all this time looking for something you have.”
I hear the crackle of embers. “I’m not looking for that,” I say, slowly. “I’m not looking for you.”
My heart thumps against the hallow expanse in my chest. I swear I could feel it.
It’s burning a hole in my head.
Then: “What are you looking for?” His naked back is exposed, showing faded steaks of fading ink and reddening flesh.
“I can’t describe it.”
His neck muscle ripples. “I don’t think I can just wait for you to finally come back.”
So he doesn’t.
Embers float into the dark blue expanse. They fade, fall, and blacken the ground.
My hands are still scarred. They ache sometimes.
A man knows how to take the pain. But he doesn’t know how to make it go away.
I don’t know where to start again.
The only place I know is a good place is any direction. There are roads. There is a road for everyman.
It’s really choice. Choice that makes a man great. Or destroys him.
I’ll be damned.
It’s okay to lose it all. It’s okay to hurt yourself to mask the hollowness. It’s okay to fall.
The night became black ink, streaked with yellow dye. I choose then, with all that my hands have done, to dress my wounds, ignore the sting, clench my teeth…
“You’re already enough for me. You don’t have to do that.”
He said twenty-two was too young to start to worry about future things. Keep your future for another day.
Men keep it in the here and now.
I bite down on the belt and plunge the needle in my thigh.
Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Even if it’s going to cost it all.
My muscles have faded. My back is flaring, scathing with teenaged bumps.
I’m against the wall, wood at my feet splayed out like some kind of cruel joke.
You can cut me and I’ll bleed; I’ll heal. You can cut me where it counts and I’ll bleed a river. I’ll bleed into the air.
Men know how to bleed. They know how to burn.
I chose this overwhelming task. To seek that which is already kindling in my chest.
I chose to fail. I chose to fall.
Men don’t become men. They already are.
It’s in the pine needles on the neck, the bricks in the heart, the virility between the legs.
I miss him: The crags, the scars, the flaring of his nose.
Where to go besides places unknown? I don’t know.
I smell the moisture a budding day. Red embers warm my hands. I carefully lift the axe, dress my wounds, and seek what is mine, what has always been mine.
Chop. Chop. Chop.