William Keller

“at times”

at times, my life can be, or is– an open faced, several-days-old roast beef sandwich; just as my late grandmother would make for me when i was younger—watching reruns of ‘friends’ on the small television she had beside the kitchen table; amidst false flowers in glass vases on the ledge above the cellar steps. the wonder bread has long ago absorbed all of the too-salty canned gravy, the dubious beef is green-turning, though subtly; the plate has gone cold and a once anticipated suppertime meal has congealed into some form of gelatin—but i refuse in my stubbornness to use a microwave to re‐heat it… and i don’t eat meat.

during the days in providence, the snow melts from the roof of the van—from all of the places i couldn’t reach to clean off– or rather, from the places that i couldn’t be bothered to reach after a foot-or-two snow storm; not after last winter’s ceaseless barrage; it seems once it has begun, the winter may never end. the van is white, who really would even notice?—it’s tall up there anyway... by nightfall, the once angelic white coating turns to drippy droops and warped drabs—the snow’s tears solidify into frozen rivers and tributary streams down the broad, filthy windshield. each night without a familiar driveway or a parking lot, my van cries the tears of not belonging, the tears of instability; and all apart from the occasional oil changes, tire rotations and gasoline—my van cries the sorrowful tears of unmet van-like needs.

my days become of their own routine, unfolding—all running into one grey wash of muted stationary, styrofoam static, marred by a state of uncertainty, not for what the day may entail… it’s somehow more or less always the same– but uncertainty for what’s next? the hardest part is not the sleeping, nor the process of finding a place to park—so as to preserve anonymity—and thus parking on a different street, in a different neighborhood each night along the outskirts of the city; the hardest part is not being awoken by the night, the morning sun, nor the january cold. the hardest part is not the awakening to be reminded of my reality by the sounds of early morning commuters or high school students in pawtucket; it is not the time spent in an attempt to fill my days, nor the wandering from warm place to warm place as day becomes evening—but for me, the most difficult part is my german shepherd dog named addison—and the symbolism she has since taken on and the isolated feelings of being separate from my once sense of willingness to do more than just survive.

it seems now, at times like these, i was just so naïve to think i could afford to only do the things that i love, and nothing more; to not do anything which did not feel in accordance with my inner-nature; to choose only love over fear, always—i suppose i’m now feeling defeated after a period of unmet needs; my soul’s figurative candle wick has burned into the wax and that’s it, scraping the wax from the base will no longer do. addison is as my own daughter and i, her now absentee father—just trying to pull himself together. these periods of time apart serve only to remind me of my own instability, both financially and emotionally—as with the ice on my windshield, the degree of transparency in my personal life has become warped as i try to look through—as loved ones and others peer in. my mother doesn’t know, and my father is incapable of understanding what could have ever lead to this. i tell vague truths to protect them—to avoid conflict if at all possible. it was not the first time i had made the call to “home” to my mother back in new york in search of assistance with my pup. in a way she is supportive– in a way she understands that my life is not lead by reason, but by seemingly careless intuitive whims… and i have put her through a lot for her to finally come to these terms.

it was the end of this past september—the leaves had begun to turn and my lease at 12 barker street was coming to an end. i knew i had to leave, but i didn’t know to where– my landlord buzz was a manipulative‐old‐man‐dictator‐son‐of‐a‐bitch‐ bastard‐asshole‐man, and i was tired of deceit, i was tired of living in a basement; in a two hundred year old falling‐down house with an indian restaurant parking lot for a yard. i needed light, i needed the space to grow and i had been suffocating. addi and i were walking along our once familiar, narrow neighborhood passage ways on the west side when sorrow filled my throat and my arms began to resonate with emptiness– my arms were crying, i knew it was time for action—i wasn’t ready; i had been hopeful that with the change of seasons, there would at last be a noticeable and much needed internal shift, that i would again fall into alignment with the world around me– that my feet would find the soil beneath them. but the balance never came—the autumn leaves that had once been so inspiring to me didn’t move me—i was numb and in fear that somewhere along the way i had been broken. i couldn’t find anyplace i could afford that would allow dogs, but still i was hopeful something would fall into place—but that something or someplace i was looking for never did. i felt dead inside and i wanted my physical body to reflect my state of dis-clarity. i wanted to be some fractured-charcoal smear on a piece of torn cardboard, or a bulbous remnant puddle of summer tar on the leafy, autumn-time pavement.

regardless of my countless attempts to console her, to tell her how or why– i fear that somehow apart from my well-intentions, she may never understand—to which extent my neglect of her has been, not by choice but instead by a series of narrow obligatory circumstances which were once only thought to be temporary. my brief visits back to rockland where she now lives with my mother in my childhood home don’t seem to help– i see her joy with my return; her deafening sorrow as i pack the van to leave again. she’s already been through so much, i couldn’t bare to put her through yet another ephemeral transiton—she looks to me for consent to jump into the van, but she is not invited to join me as i had so many countless times in the past and this breaks my heart—the once perceived romanticism of an artist living in his van has well worn off, long ago.

“i just can’t, addison– i just can’t… daddy has to figure things out; i’ll be back so soooon! so soon i’ll be seeing you!!—i hope… i promise—i just don’t know–-how this has all happened; i promise, my girl! i love you, i miss you so much– sometimes, things just happen for reasons we don’t understand, they can happen to anyone– one thing always leads to another, it can really happen to anyone– for reasons which may never be foreseen; sometimes things can just happen to us…look at me, look me in the eyes—aaaadddii? this was not my first choice; each day i send you all of my love; with all of my hope, i will one day return to you– to again take you away with me– to return to our world, but for now i must go! i love you addi! i know you can be so bold and brave! you must be so; for the sake of me?!”

at times, it is necessary to embrace all thoughts and emotions as truth; to feel all of our pain, discontent and discomfort as well as our moments of bliss and profundity as an experience of sensation—and to move forward, to trust that we are being guided away from those situations which are no longer well suited for us, and toward our greatest good, toward the only life worth living. the periods of upheaval are all so necessary; when we confront the possibility of death we come face to face with what we are willing to sacrifice to live the lives we so intend, and to find our own ways of living. at times all we can do is let go. at times all we can do is to do all we can. so just go on—nothing really even matters, okay?

William Keller

William Keller is a Providence, Rhode Island based poet. He is a bookseller at Ada books and an artists’ figure model at the Rhode Island School of Design. He began living in his van at first due to emotional instability and subsequently, limited options. He continues to reside in his Ford Econoline passenger van.