To flirt in a time of grief
and war is an animal act
of desperation and lust or just
hope for a simpler thrill.
It's a certain kind of high
a youthful curiosity
when an unfamiliar glance sends
an unmistakable message.

I like it brazen.
Look at me
like you know the source of the river.
Look at me
like I've got the last glass of water.
Pretend we're an oasis.

To flirt in a time of tragedy
is to ride the wave of death
as it curls around you
-- it will crash on your head
at any moment, hope
you wash up alive --
are you surfing or shipwrecked?

To court desire themself --
the charm of possibility
the sparkle of fantasy
the hope of beauty
can draw your body forward in time
when the mind
has bowed out.

And when the heart is broken
it will rush for that opiate lust,
which numbs us and makes us
touch our lips ponderously
like drunk models with vacant looks
in ads for expensive nothing.

To flirt in a time of heartache
is to float atop the stream
of time and madness--
a terrifying insect
posing as a fairy.

I am not the most comfortable with this poem, and yet I like it enough that I want to share it, and I do believe in it’s message or I wouldn’t have written it. We live in a time where violence is pervasive. Emotional violence (gaslighting, shaming, emotional cruelty and manipulation), intellectual violence (dishonesty, “fake news,” attacks on the legitimacy of the press, scientific institutions, and the very basis of our shared understanding of the world, which is the true fabric of society), let alone actual physical violence, which we witness daily in ways too numerous to list. And rather than reject violence, we become entrenched in our fear of sex, love, romance, lust, passion — the things that draw us toward one another and make us vulnerable. Culturally, we are scared of vulnerability because we’re so terribly aware of all the ways we can be hurt. I’m afraid what we’ve forgotten is that this self-imposed isolation is more painful than what we risk when we connect to one another.

Perhaps I am demented like that terrifying insect floating on the stream, but the alternative is to be pulled under and become another anonymous suffering. And even though I fully expect to be forgotten in time’s inevitable flow, I don’t believe we are required to acquiesce to a life of misery.

I see so many people who trade in misery. Their conversations revolve around who’s done wrong to whom, and most of them believe they have been the recipients of the worst kinds of unkindness. Many times they’re right. But they don’t even know where the unkindness has come from, just that it’s been thrust upon them their whole lives. So many people live with a sense that they are not good enough, unworthy of love, unable to do better, and controlled by a faceless malice.

What I wish to convey is that we do have other options. Yes, there is cruelty and violence. But we still have ourselves. We still have our hearts. We still have one another, whether we are strangers, lovers or friends. We get to decide how to be. We can embrace the brutal flow of violence, or we can ride on top of the wave and take our chances with the crash. It could be a disaster, but it could be beautiful.