Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Monkey In My Head

Reality is an uncut commercial—
It feels all wrong until it’s edited
To say something that isn’t controversial
And cater to the monkey in my head.

The slogan, not the sense, is what I hear
Because it echoes what I cannot say.
The more I’m terrified, the more I cheer
Whoever says he’ll take my fear away.

The image, not the truth, is what I see
And if it’s fake enough, I think it’s real.
An idiot can babble endlessly—
It’s how he looks that tells me what to feel.

The image rules, but it will not adore me
Until the monkey does my thinking for me.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Monday, August 29, 2016


“Wake up to a hearty, lip-smacking bowlful of nutritious, nourishing Ubik toasted flakes, the adult cereal that’s more crunchy, more tasty, more ummmish. Ubik breakfast cereal, the whole-bowl taste treat!”
                        ― Philip K. Dick, Ubik

Let’s face it—we’re all getting finger-fucked
   By everything from toys to telephones
Like Life won't make us happy till we’re sucked
   Off by a junkie tailored to our jones.
It’s all distraction, like a dangling carrot
   That swears it isn’t guiding, only freeing.
Stuff we can buy, opinions we can parrot—
   What are these visions stopping us from seeing?
Reality's become a gateway drug
   To worlds where even the police are copping—
Where liberty’s the freedom to be smug
   And Life’s one true reward is one-stop shopping—
      Where Eve can buy a garden with an Apple,
      And God's a cloud download above each chapel. 

Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Friday, August 26, 2016

Life In 14 Lines - 5

I think of change and never make a move;
And when I make a move, there is no motion.
When pushed, I renovate, but don’t improve.
All tides ripple unturning in my ocean.

I can’t stand where I live, but love the view.
The less things change, the fewer my vexations.
I say I can evolve, but that’s untrue—
We don’t evolve except by generations.

I knew a girl; I said, “It’s you I love.”
She said, “If things were different, I’d be game.”
“If things were different” is the motto of
Anyone who wants things to stay the same.

My soul’s a loafer I can’t energize
Unless I’m not just smart, but otherwise.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Life In 14 Lines - 4

There is a petty me who always whines
That I deserve to win the race because
I entered it, and loathes the little swines
Who see me and don’t greet me with applause.

There is a lonely me who falls in love
Because it feeds his insecurities
And always proves that I’m unworthy of
Happiness, satisfaction, and heart’s ease.

And there’s an angry me who feeds on hate,
An empty me who swallows all my dreams,
A vengeful me who yearns to dominate,
And a sly me who bides his time and schemes.

And I will only draw a happy breath
When I can starve each one of them to death.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Death Be Not Even Remotely High And Mighty


                         for Meir Ribalow

I had a drink with Death. He looked real sad.
I asked, “What’s wrong? Your face looks like a fist.”
He said, “As if you care,” and cursed a tad.
“I bet it’s Meir,” I said, and Death got pissed.

“I HATE it when you people die,” he said.
“The ones you leave behind when your life ends
Keep you alive in them after you’re dead!
You NEVER die—you live on in your friends.

You know what that makes me look like?” he cried.
“The only house on Stupid Avenue!
I don’t see ANYONE after they’ve died!
My kingdom’s empty—they’re all here with you!”

And then he cursed some more and said goodbye,
And I just smiled and went: “Meir says hi.”

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Monday, August 22, 2016

In The Event Of My Life

         for Coley Campany

In the event of my life
let me be known not for what I do
but for what I dance to
and what I fight for.

In the event of my life
let me outlive everyone
my death would crush.

In the event of my life
send me nothing but great souls
to be part of my non–blood family.

In the event of my life
give me enemies
who will always commit rookie mistakes
and friends who will forgive me
whenever I make mine.

In the event of my life
please let all the sex I have
leave a crater, like make-up sex
after an angry shouting donnybrook
where we both scream unforgivable things
and go at each other like crocodiles on crack
but without the fighting.

In the event of my life
give me health over fame.

In the event of my life
let what I am looking for find me
even when I’ve given up the quest.

In the event of my life
if what I’m looking for doesn’t find me
let me be wise enough to see
and appreciate what does.

In the event of my life
surround me with people who share
the correct opinion about biscuits, dogs, key lime pie,
and The Wolf Of Wall Street
which is such a gigantic pile of shit
that it can single-handedly fertilize the Gobi Desert.

(and Kylie)
(fuck ‘em if they don’t like Kylie)

In the event of my life
let me give birth to something every day
and kill a bad habit once a week.

In the event of my life
I want a guarantee in writing
that every time I talk to a friend
I haven’t spoken to in ages,
it will be like picking up the thread
of a life-or-death conversation.

In the event of my life
remind me to always say goodbye
like I’ll never see you again.

In the event of my life
give me contacts when I’m young
and talent when I’m old
because the other way around
is death.

In the event of my life
keep me away from people
who don’t make an effort.

In the event of my life
don’t ever let me give 
more than I'm going to get.

In the event of my life
if there’s a choice between being oh so smart
and oh so pleasant, let me 
recommend pleasant.

In the event of my life
remind me that this body I was born into
is no more who I am
than yours is you.

In the event of my life
let me apologize less
and forgive more.

In the event of my life
please God make sure I do NOT
repeat my parents’ mistakes
but make my own
because new mistakes are progress.

In the event of my life
I want somebody
to put all my victories and defeats
in the same box
and then blindfold me
and challenge me to tell them apart.

In the event of my life
if I'm going to get hurt
let it happen because I acted out of trust
and not suspicion.

In the event of my life
keep me the fuck away
from people who say “110%” or “150%” or “200%”
like it actually means something
because I'll kill them
I swear to God I'll fucking kill them and their dogs
and feed them to their grammar school math teachers
so watch it.

In the event of my life
give me the pride to own my gifts,
and just enough self-assurance
to undermine my insecurities about them.

In the event of my life
let my laugh be the cause
that laughter is in other men.

In the event of my life
give me the courage to leap
and the faith to survive it.

In the event of my life
let me live only and always
in the arms of whatever I would die for.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Friday, August 19, 2016

Life In 14 Lines - 3

My life obeys the power of suggestion:
The way I feel is why I fall or fly.
I’m here to think about and ask the question
And trust the world will give me a reply.

I learn the consequence of my decisions
Each time I wonder why or wonder at,
And suffer through the day-to-day collisions
When what I want and what I get go splat.

All I can do is tell you how I feel
I cannot make you answer that you care
And then embrace denial or the real
Each time the world fills in my questionnaire.

I may not get the ones I want to hear
But they will all be answers, loud and clear.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Two Grief Sonnets

         It’s not that I felt nothing. I felt nothingness.
                 -- Clive James


I see a sorrow nothing can dispel.
   I see dull eyes that used to wink and play.
I see a jewel constricted by a shell.
   What do you need to wipe this grief away?
Despair is now the state that you inhabit.
   It hunts you like a roaring Chevrolet
While your soul stands there frozen like a rabbit.
   What will it take to help you run away?
And when you think life’s empty, cold and black,
   Or that nobody hears you when you pray,
Tell me—and I will always answer back:
   What can I do to wash your pain away?
      I’m here to give you what you always give
      To me—a day-by-day reason to live.

I’ll be the bowl when grief melts you away.
   When you reach out, I’ll be the hand you hold.
When all seems dark as night, I’ll be your day.
   I’ll be the heart that warms when yours grows cold.
I’ll be your certainty when you feel doubt.
    Whenever you feel terror, I’ll be brave.
I’ll be the shovel that will dig you out
   When you bury yourself in sorrow’s grave.
A friend, a scold, a comforter, an ear;
   A crutch, a noodge, a pessimist, Candide;
A clown, a priest, the stars by which you steer—
   I’ll never stop being the thing you need.
      You’re stronger than you think—and till you see
      And know the truth of that, just lean on me.


Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Moment's Now

The moment’s now. Grab it. It will not come
Again. This is the only chance you’ll get.
Even the strongest feeling will grow numb.
Now never waits on those who say “Not yet.” 

We think we can go back, pick up the trail;
But what it leads to isn’t there—it’s changed
Or moved—like you. It docked and then set sail
Into an ocean that’s been rearranged. 

Only Now has your name on it, and if
You never reach for it, you won’t forgive
Yourself. So do it. Be a lucky stiff
For once. No second guesses. Choose and live. 

And if Time lets it grow or leaves it dying,
At least it won’t be lost for lack of trying. 

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Friday, August 12, 2016

Life In 14 Lines - 1

I live my life mostly inside my head—
Talk to myself when no one is around,
Imagine love, think about being dead,
And always look for higher vantage ground. 

I order Happiness; Life serves me habits.
My heart forgives the crimes it should condemn.
My fears disguise themselves as little rabbits—
They are so cute, I have to cuddle them. 

I only feel great joy when I stop thinking.
For all I talk, there’s more I’ll never say.
There’s nothing that cannot be solved by drinking
Except for drinking. Which I’ll quit. Someday. 

And like all promises I make myself,
That gathers lots of dust on my life’s shelf.


Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jottings from the notebook

FRIEND IN HER MID-30'S: So how old are you again?
ME: I'm at that in-between age--biologically old enough to be your father, and emotionally young enough to be your child.

Frank Sinatra actually saved a man’s life once.  He just said three words.  “Boys, that’s enough.”

“What’s it like outside?”
“Cold and depressing, like my ex-husband.”

The bosses are happy when YOU feel helpless.  They’re pleased when they think the source of your trouble is your family . . . they even like addicts as long as they’re mostly out of sight.  After all, addiction is just the last stage of consumerism.
                -- Charles Baxter

Who HASN’T gotten hurt?  If you get to a certain age and you’ve never been hurt, then that means you were the asshole.

Justice is incidental to Law and Order
                -- J Edgar Hoover

I’m talking to you pre-coffee?  I don’t know whether to be honored or terrified.

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.                       
                -- Steven Weinberg

The Roman Catholic Church is like a school where the best students are always expelled.
                -- Paul Valery

Scottish men: they’re so sexy they put the laid in plaid.

“Are you having a good time?”
“I’m surrounded by horny, stupid men.”
“Isn’t that great? You can get laid and reinforce your self-esteem at the same time.”
                -- Mike Carey, Lucifer

Love is a weird mix of nervousness and serenity—like an ache mixed with a hug.

Only the mediocre are always at their best.
                -- Jean Giradoux 

A woman has her first child the moment she says “I do.”

Winning is the mark of Abel.
                -- Diane Arbus

Closeness gives birth to distance every time.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever felt responsible.
                -- Stanislaw Lec

Guys are like refrigerators. You keep going back to the ones that are half-empty, hoping this time it’ll be there, that thing that you want.

I’d rather be whole than good.
                -- Carl Jung

If you want to bet on who will do the dumbest thing in the world, pick the smartest guy in the room.

The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds come home to roost.
                -- Arthur Miller

Never forget that, if you want to forgive your enemies, first you have to make them.

Once we were citizens. Then we were consumers. Now we're just data.
                -- Art Yomama 

He’s the kind of writer who does to his women what Nabokov did to his butterflies.

Whenever I tried to sing of love, it turned to pain. And again, when I tried to sing of pain, it turned to love.
                -- Schubert

The future is going to be a vast conforming suburb of the soul.
                -- JG Ballard, 1982 

REPORTER: Did you ever sleep with General Eisenhower?
MARLENE DIETRICH: How could I, darling? He was never at the front.

Marriage is all about learning how to live with someone you used to think you could never live without.

Sacrifice is a word that makes people feel noble about slaughter.
                 -- Kate Atkinson, A God In Ruins

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.
                -- HG Wells

If I were you, we'd both be miserable.

STUDIO HEAD: We want you to rewrite and direct Cleopatra. Name your price.
NUNNALLY JOHNSON: Ten percent of the losses.

I have a cobweb soul; it feels everything.

He used to be a great artist, but now he’s only a genius.
                -- Braque on Picasso

You must come again when you have less time.
                -- Walter Sickert showing Denton Welch the door

People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.
                -- John Kenneth Galbraith

The only perfect lovers are the ones who got away.

A man asked Mr. K. whether there is a God. Mr. K. said: “I advise you to consider whether, depending on the answer, your behavior would change. If it would not change, then we can drop the question. If it would change, then I can at least be of help to the extent that I can say, you have already decided: you need a God.”
                -- Stories of Mr Keuner, Bertolt Brecht
The heart has no sex.
                   -- Art Yomama

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Heart

My heart’s an unwalled city on a plain.
It can be overrun from all directions.
But everything it feels, from joy to pain,
Will make it turn its wounds into connections. 

My heart’s an army that will never fight
Because it wins whenever it is lost.
It’s not the champion of wrong or right
But the foe of indifference, and its cost. 

My heart’s a hope that has a broken wing,
And every time it tries to fly, it falls.
But that hope is not crushed—it learns to sing
Of sky and clouds and treetops as it crawls. 

My heart’s a moth. It will die in the flame
That is the heart of one who feels the same. 

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Friday, August 5, 2016

Birthday Wish

                              for Dawn Kamerling

What can I give someone who is so gifted?
   Kingdoms are toys to those who wear a crown.
You can make sad-eyed strangers feel uplifted.
   You can do anything, except slow down.
For there’s a laughing girl in you who’s fearless
   And always puts some other person first.
If it makes your friends happy, she'll be cheerless.
   She’ll serve them drinks while she’s dying of thirst.
That wild, free girl who wears you like a dress
   Deserves more than to be a castaway—
So I wish her the gift of happiness;
   A place of safety, innocence and play;
      And no one in the world she has to please
      Except a laughing girl who skins her knees.


Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Nothing But Wars And Lechery

To paraphrase Shaw, in Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare came as close to the 20th Century as the 17th Century would let him. To paraphrase me, he also came as close to the Athens of Pericles as the 1600’s would let him, because Troilus has all the bite, rage and scabrous humor of a lost play by Euripides. It’s talky, it’s satirical, its world view is a bad marriage between bitter and despairing, it’s an ongoing essay on the effects of Time on everything from vows to reputations, and it’s a bleak look at the stupidity of honor, like Shakespeare got angry drunk one night and decided to wipe people’s faces with the truth behind Falstaff’s honor speech.  

None of which are lost in this production, which is  (a) the fifth time I’ve seen this play performed, and (b) the best out of the five. So if you’ve never seen Troilus and Cressida, go see this one. And if you have seen Troilus and Cressida, definitely go see this one because it’s probably better than any of the other versions you’ve ever seen.  

Why? Because for a play that’s got more tonal shifts than Schoenberg, this production manages to find a way to embrace them all in a military bear-hug, thanks in no small part to a stellar ensemble and smart, assured direction by Daniel Sullivan, who establishes a consistent tone that honors all the wounding bitterness of this play while showing you how the wound got there.  

That’s always been the problem for me with Troilus. Either you make it overtly Messagey (like the Wooster Group’s Cry Trojans), or you ride the satire over the top until it crashes and burns (like the 1995 Delacorte version which was given low marks and no wings by director Mark Wing-Davey), or you go for stratospheric camp, like the 1973 David Schweizer-directed version at the Public (with a preening Christopher Walken as Achilles, a dead horse that William Hickey’s Pandarus kept kicking during the Helen scene, and Joe Papp chewing out the director during intermission the night I saw it. Good times.). Only rarely, as in Bill Alexander’s Folger production back in ’92, do you get a solid production that creates a stage on which satire can co-exist with something that resembles reality. That production did it by setting everything in ancient Troy; this one does it by setting everything in a modern Middle East war zone.  

They also have one other thing in common: a Hector who is a flawed rock of integrity. In the Folger production it was Daniel Southern, and he was like a male version of Desdemona: you knew that he was doomed the minute he opened his mouth to talk about honor. In this production, it’s Bill Heck, who has the kind of physicality and demeanor that demands respect, the kind of intelligence that sees the problem and knows how to solve it, and the kind of religious adherence to vows and words of honor that compounds the problem and ultimately kills him.  

I’ve been thinking about this production a lot since I saw it, and I can’t think of anything it did wrong. Corey Stoll’s Ulysses is dressed in a suit like a Halliburton adviser, and he is totally the manipulative dick that Attic Greek tragedy made out of Homer’s hero, the voice of reason who literally takes reason to a homicidal level. John Glover’s Pandarus is sublime and delightful. Max Casella’s Thersites threatens to steal the show, but the one who really does that is Alex Breaux as Ajax, a dim-witted Bro to whom self-knowledge is as incomprehensible as particle physics. (Although the real star the night I saw it was the understudy for Achilles, KeiLyn Durrel Jones, who went on for the injured David Harbour, and. Was. Amazing.)  

Something else done right: the women. Sullivan says more in two scenes about women as property in a male-dominated world than Phyllida Lloyd did in all of Shrew. Helen of Troy is a weary captive with a half-filled goblet of wine that never seems to get any emptier no matter how much she drinks, and she’s drinking for a reason, because she’s a trophy, a trophy who's ghosted by two men whenever she moves, men who shadow her and block her from going anywhere Paris doesn’t want her to go. (Paris is such a tool; for this one scene alone, you love to hate him.) And when Cressida is in the Greek camp, and Diomedes is talking to her, it’s done while a bunch of soldiers are watching them, ready and willing to move in on Cressida if and when she refuses Diomedes’ protection. And she knows it. So what else can she do but break her vow to Troilus, when the alternative is gang rape? The play is full of moments like this, stinging and sharply-observed.  

As for the title characters, Andrew Burnap and Ismenia Mendes are a matched set of awkward, vulnerable youngsters whom you want to see get together. Mendes in particular is awkward in a modern way that fits the setting of the production—the words rush out of her, spoken not in verse but in bursts, like the artillery fire that keeps hammering away at the walls of Troy. But because both of them are real and likeable, it really hurts when they’re forced by circumstance to learn the hard way that whenever you make a vow in this play, the gods laugh at you, and then make you either revoke that vow and lose your honor, or keep it and lose your life.  

And not just the gods but Time, who is the presiding deity of this script. Perhaps because of the clarity of the way it’s presented, this is the first production where I actually felt like I was watching everything through a temporal kaleidoscope. Troilus keeps getting described as a second Hector; so that means, once he and Cressida get married, that he will treat her the way Hector treats Andromache, like her fears are womanish and weak. When Troilus loses Cressida, he rages like Achilles when he’s lost Patriclus, and I think: ah, this is what Menelaus must have been like seven years ago, when he first lost Helen. And now look at him: the war has beaten all the anger out of him, and every line he says in this play (and he has, what, maybe 10 lines in all?) is a cracked window opening up onto a dour and defeated soul. This is what Troilus will be in seven years.

Seriously: everyone in this play is a temporal echo of everyone else, from Old Man Nestor who remembers fighting with everybody’s grandfather, to Cassandra who remembers things that haven’t happened yet. Only Ulysses, asshole that he is, is untouched by Time; and whatever he’s going to do when this war is over, you can bet it won’t involve trying to get home. This guy is too much in love with running things to come up with the Trojan Horse idea. If anything, this particular Ulysses would think of it and then deliberately forget it, just to keep the war going on forever. 

Two final notes. It feels a lot shorter than its three hours, which is something I never thought I would say about a production of this play (the 1995 version was as interminable as current David Mamet).  

And how weird is it that, when you look at the last three plays Sullivan has directed for Shakespeare in the Park, it’s the two weirdos which he’s done proud (Cymbeline and Troilus) while it’s the old warhorse that was totally out of his wheelhouse (Lear).

Let's hear it for weirdos. Go see this.




Monday, August 1, 2016

All I Can Ask

I cannot say that I would make you mine—
   That’s ownership. You don’t do that to hearts.
If you bottle them up like local wine,
   They will ferment to sour and bitter parts.
I cannot worship all you are and do—
   You’re not a god. You’re human to the bone.
But there is such divinity in you
   That your smile can draw honey from a stone.
All I can ask is whether you can see
   Yourself with someone loyal, kind and giving—
And even if that person isn’t me,
   Find a heart full of that and you’ll be living
      With love that’s holier than the divine
      And happiness that ages like fine wine.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells