Charles Borkhuis



woke up in someone else’s dream
four walls white carpet and a missing roof
like the top just blown off someone’s head 
a giant quivering brain hovered above the fray   
just to let me know it was thinking of me

it was real alright 
about as real as a pair of post-surgical plastic lips 
trying to steal a kiss
real as the dialogue in a trashy play 
that I couldn’t quite act my way out of

like every other chump on the block
I thought my thoughts were my own 
but that didn’t stop 
someone else’s words from sliding 
out the side of my mouth

too much like real life to be real
never know who’s doing the talking
you or some double-dealing doppelgänger  
feeding you lines

everything had more holes in it 
than you could shake a stick at 
tiny universes under the skin 
I was riddled with them
that’s how the phantoms got in 

a dancing 3-legged desk here 
a floating holographic ear there
I was a walking semi-permeable membrane 
ghosted by a prompter in the wings

in this slice of life 
the living and dead kept coming up for air 
we were all amputated twitchings and stirrings
looking for a host to nibble on 
while we tweeted away the midnight hour


someone was dreaming me 
just as I was dreaming someone else
each of us was brainwashed to think
we were living out our own lives

but deep down we knew 
we were all living on multiple levels at once 
in some superposition until someone 
observed us and we collapsed back 
into a particular nobody 
sipping a martini and leaning against a wall

just then I felt myself melting 
through a curved bubble glass bowl 
I was a rubber-lipped goldfish looking out 
on a warped underwater room 

I saw a hazy image of myself 
like an electron reverberating
in a field of possible positions 
I was standing drunk near an overstuffed 
lazy boy waiting for someone’s fat ass 
to sit down and make everything right 

but it wasn’t right 
I was aware of being awake 
in a quicksand nightmare 
caught in the middle of a frozen laugh 
while everything and everyone
swirled around me like a bouquet of killer bees


dressed up as farm animals 
my old friends conversed politely 
with grasshopper women 
they all knew their lines and they knew mine 
but I didn’t and so was shoved ahead of myself 
into a slapstick comedy of errors

my words seemed to have a life of their own
bubbling up from a multitude of voices
I looked into the mirror over a grasshopper’s head 
and the ghostly voices said 

we’re all statues around here
why don’t you leave through the window
stop feeling sorry for yourself
he doesn’t look like a murderer
they never do
would you recognize the dead man if you saw him again
as if I were already dead 
stop reading between the lines
stop coming up roses
stop grinding your teeth
I need someone to fill in my silhouette 
check please
I can’t compete with busboys’ toothy grins
I’m not like the others
that’s what’s got us worried
there’s always another story inside this one
maybe but meanwhile what’ll we do with the body
it’ll all come out in the wash
I won’t be here when you get back
you’re not here now


I mumbled mindlessly to the grasshopper girls 
as if I were talking to myself 
they ate it up like popcorn at the movies
watched me making a fool of myself 
playing an actor who couldn’t remember his lines 
a somnambulist who kept bumping 
into a clutch of furniture that was trying to get familiar

I slipped into a crazy lazy boy  
and noticed it was starting to bill and coo
everything was getting a little too close 
like all this was some kind of simulated sex
and of course it was
but I was looking for a little more 
than the shifting veils of beauty of misdirection 
reflection folded in upon reflection 
I was looking for a glimmer 
a clue as to what escapes the limits 
what changes everything just by looking
I was waiting for a child’s blindfolded kiss
I was looking for a little pin the tail on the donkey

I reached for a paperweight sun
holding down a collection of loose poems
but it burned a hole in my pocket 
I was busted for trying to steal an object d’art  
they twisted my wrists into golden handcuffs

just about then mauve clouds moved in
began drizzling blood through the open roof 
down the white stucco walls
where a tall iguana in a slinky red dress 
handed me a transparent umbrella
her naked breasts flashed what looked like a wink
as she whipped her striped lizard tail  
back and forth 

you’re a big talker aren’t you
by the way don’t bleed on the carpet 
it’s new

I’m not bleeding I said 
the sky is falling

that’s what they all say she smiled
blame it on the camel in the clouds 
or a humpbacked whale scudding across the sky
won’t do any good
you’ve got blood on your hands
you’re a dead man dreaming he’s still alive
it happens to us all sooner or later
that umbrella won’t get you far in prison 
wrong way to the sun ha ha
better get yourself a good lawyer

where are we I muttered

we’re three months behind on the rent 
she blew her nose in a hanky 
and a fish-faced man slithered out of the shadows

you can help us he said 
an index finger will be sufficient for the back rent 
and perhaps a pinky for the deposit on a new roof

I struggled as iguana girl held my hand down 
fish face took out a cleaver 
and chopped off two of my fingers 
blood spirted skyward like a screaming stallion 
iguana girl stopped the bleeding 
with her dirty hanky

now now said fish face don’t be greedy 
last time I counted you still had eight fingers

if I stayed there any longer 
I’d be wearing stumps for hands


they led me to a back room with candles burning
some old guy stretched out in a gray lazy boy 
sipping a margarita with his shades 
permanently attached to his eyeholes

look at this 
a visitor awake in my dream lucid isn’t it 
you could be me in my mid-twenties 
lost in puddle of poems I couldn’t write my way out of
start with a sentence and fall on a syllable
plume to the heart just for being
it all stinks to high heaven
nowhere to go from here

I’m well versed in the drill
I see ten years written on your forehead 
maybe twenty 
and where do words get you in the end
I should know but I don’t 
not really

it’s dark where you’re going 
maybe you’ll burn all your scribblings 
and quit 
or not you could be me or not 
depending upon 
shit happens 
when you’re not looking
out the in-door sure 
but it’s not that simple
fall in with the wrong crowd 
stealing from the wrong sharks
there are always consequences
the way the stray looks you in the eye
dog to dog that same
hungry growl meant to mean
pull your face out of the gutter friend

if he had a cigar he’d be your old man
another sentient being 
born to feel pain or joy depending upon 
what end of the night stick you’re on

I stumbled into the narrow
just another self-reflexive detective
following a line of breadcrumb clues

car lights shadowed me
down a back alley wrong dream
I flashed a sunny smile
and pointed a stiff index at the hit men 
for no good reason 
I pulled the trigger finger and they let me have it 
punched more holes in me than a train ticket 
headed to the end of the line
turned me over like a bad dream
smiling up at the abyss

you want the truth
you don’t have to be me
you could wake up as another someone
a poverty-stricken poet who sticks with it 
to the end for no good reason 
except you just might get better 
or not

don’t laugh
that same doomed smile 
on the other side of your face 
is sometimes enough to keep you going


snuck out the front door 
while the party animals were chowing down 
on a delivery boy 
who’d brought the wrong order

hit the street wondering
if I were still in the old boy’s dream
or was this my own despoiled shore
it didn’t matter anymore
the sun was pounding my temples 
like a jackhammer splitting rocks 
shrapnel ripped flesh off the bone
I wasn’t me anymore 

I never was me 
but it took a bullet to tear us apart
my name peeled off my face 
like a green joker’s mask

I saw my doppelgänger crossing 
the street without me 
sound of an empty shell hitting cement 

I looked into a passerby’s eyes
filled with bottled-up desire 
and became him or her for a few 
inexplicable moments

before passing on to another  
who walked away with me inside him 
I was aware of being awake in their thoughts
I was the telepathic twin 
of a short woman pregnant 
poor and alone
should she have the child or not 

sweating she turned a delirious eye
to the indifferent sun
but it came up double zeros
maybe I cried in her eyes 
maybe she felt me moving inside her 
maybe not

I was part of something 
that was dreaming its secrets through me 
joys and terrors blood sacrifices jokes 
and riddles birth and death swimming 
through the amniotic fluid 
of a waking dream

there was no going back
I swept the sticky somnambulant letters 
from my eyes the names that covered me 
like afterbirth like dirt 
and climbed out of the grave 
one more time

Charles Borkhuis, poet and playwright. Finalist for a W.C. Williams 
Book Award. His 9 books of poems include Dead Ringer (BlazeVOX, 2017). 
Recipient of a Drama-logue Award. His two radio plays aired over NPR 
(www.pennsound). Foreign Bodies was produced in Paris Jan.-June, 2019. 
Blue Period will be produced in San Diego in 2021.

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Blogger Linda King said...

Brilliant !!

4:36 AM  

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