"12 Gods," "Ladies Is Trouble," and "Poem 3"
2021 Barrett Winner
3rd Place Hassan Darwiche
Introduction by Peter Kim, Barrett Committee:
Good afternoon. My name is Peter Kim, HFC English and Journalism instructor. I have the honor of introducing Hassan Darwiche, our 3rd place Barrett award winner. Growing up in Dearborn, Hassan is the son of two Lebanese immigrants. Hassan joined the Marine Corps when he was 17. Hassan says that while at bootcamp, he kept journals that inspire his poetry. He left the Marine Corps in 2019 as a Sergeant and began taking classes at Henry Ford College. Hassan plans to transfer to the University of Detroit Mercy’s architecture program. Hassan earned his builder’s license and started a construction and design company. He is set to submit his first set of plans under his LLC next week. In his spare time, Hassan builds and restores furniture. Hassan says that despite how busy he is, he always keeps up with his writing, which has been an interest of his since he was 14. He especially enjoys poetry. He hopes to compile his poems into a book. Hassan’s Barrett Award winning entry includes three distinct pieces, each demonstrating a writer who mixes his keen remembrances with even keener observations. What ties his three pieces together, according to Hassan, is that they “were inspired by the loneliness [he] felt after leaving the military.” “Ladies Is Trouble” has a playful title and on the face of it could appear like a rap lyric from the 1990s, but this short story takes the reader from a couple’s quarrel over honking at geese on Belle Isle to the girl not wanting her boyfriend to give her his coat to keep her warm on the cold beach, so “she holds her hand out and drops the coat onto the wet sand.” The back and forth between tenderness and friction reveal more about the vulnerabilities of the male narrator, who, despite a war buddy sowing seeds of doubt about the faithfulness of his girlfriend, ultimately finds happiness when she still accepts him despite his faults. “Poem 3” appears like a short romantic musing with lines like “I know I left Maine in a hurry, but I’ll call you on your birthday to make sure you still miss me” juxtaposed with images of tragic beauty expressed in lines like, “I create new schedules and write poems about women wearing black in an effort to subsist, but each morning there is a bird that flies in front of my window and chirps the same painful song.” The poem also mixes existential doubt with hope in lines like, “I feel the vastness of Earth’s water as I’m dragged farther down by my own body. I wanted to understand this emptiness, but instead I was given the abundance of infinity.” Hassan’s ability to juxtapose contrasting elements is what makes “12 Gods” stand out. “12 Gods” looks like a Zodiac or list of horoscope predictions, reads like confessions, and feels like familiar voices encouraging the reader to recognize that the ancient Greeks, at least what these twelve gods represent, are still among us in subtle and not so subtle ways. Mixing autobiography with contemporary allusions, the reader is greeted by each god until reaching “the one” and only Hades. But do not take my word for it, please welcome Hassan Darwiche as he reads “12 Gods.”
We have met before. You may not remember me, but I remember you very well. Though it has been a long time since I last checked up on you, I been able to keep myself quite busy with my own drunkenness. The seasons pass, and I am distracted by the vastness of my own existence. I have become madness. The wandering god. Ringing any bells? If you dig deep, you may remember me from that nightmare you had a few years back. You may have lusted after me in a nightclub on the corner of West and Tucker. You may remember me as the shadow lurking in the background of your most guilt-ridden memories. Or... you may not remember me. But I have always been here. Wandering.
They’d kill me if they could see the light in my mind. The god of thieves and liars. I go on flowing without obstruction, manipulating the time and things around me until I am content. When I was 4 and discovered a field of dandelions behind my garage, I ripped through them until there was nothing left. An unrelenting chaos I’ve never wanted to let go of. I have become mischief. This is the nature of the world I was forced into. I raise my lyre into the night sky and beg the heavens to come down soon.
I won’t lie to you. The weight of anger became too heavy. Another night, and I might have destroyed entire dimensions with the ideas in my mind. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am better alone. It has now been 36 days since I jumped into the water and left my heart behind. Day 15, I thought about breathing in the entire fucking ocean. I have become destruction. Once I felt guilt for a few seconds, but I reminded myself that I can always create entire realms of comfort in this darkness I’ve been granted.
Day 37: I’m pretty sure I heard the ocean weep.
Sometimes I can’t materialize feelings, but I’m not to be blamed. We never learned that in school. It’s all becoming too much. I am punished by the insincerity of this life. I can only stand behind the real things: the sound, the taste, the feeling. The world coldly reminds me that I am here for eternity. I have become hatred. All modern wars are fought with death. One day they won’t be. Let me tell you a story about a man who wakes up in the middle of the night. Every night. He is very tired throughout the day.
I allow myself the small pleasures. John Coltrane records while I’m in the shower. I have become bitterness. Tonight, I feel pain and I feel sadness and yet, I still stand here waiting for someone to find me. I make peace with my selfishness and animosity and absolve myself of any questions I’ve asked. The sun sets and I realize that I no longer know what I’m looking for.
Sowing the seeds of infidelity. I have become passion. My existence is haunted by the animosity of old lovers, but I barely ever think about their naked bodies anymore. The girl from last night left her cigarettes on my coffee table and several of her blond hairs pasted on to the face of my bedsheet. The governor asked us to stay at home last month right after the pandemic hit and so I caught up on a lot of sleep. I thought of calling her and staying up on the phone all night, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.
Towers of human consciousness that reach for the brightness past the sky. I have become loneliness. I once had a vision of a place where men were wolves and rain was made of dust. I know what you must think of me by now. I hear “heartless” and I hear “harmless”, but there is nothing here besides a stream that refuses to stop moving because it cannot stop moving. One man alone without a body outside of his own body. I dig my fingers into the fabric of my own existence, but the yarn is too tightly knit.
After all the years passed, I told myself that I’d spend my time saving the world from myself, but at some point, I became the world and inherited much of its impatience. I am the end of pain, pacing through the streets like clockwork, trying to find the same thing in another set of eyes. I am a new perspective, yelling obscenities at you for your old ways while also thanking you for finding me. I am self-awareness, scratching my name into bathroom mirrors, reminding you of who you used to be. I am the remnants of love, always thinking the same thing, while always doing another. But I am also fear of death, grasping your heart with both hands and pulling it down just a little bit lower. I have become power.
I am the son who is drowned by daughters. Disappointed in love. Endless days stretch into an infinite night. I fear that my existence is dwindling. One cigarette after another. The years pass, and some of them get married, but most of them simply learn. I once had a lover that turned into a tree. I wear her branches on my head. How’s that for a laugh? I have become persistence. There are entire worlds of novel beauty occurring in bedrooms that I’ll never be invited into. All these women, and they’re still not enough.
The first kind of awakening that happens after an open fire in grief. I see moonlight illuminating the trenches of solitude, but my darkness hides in a cavern that cannot be reached by the prying light. I have become vigor. Bathing in daylight. I got lost in Raleigh while looking for something I’d lost. Sometimes I’m consumed by the immensity of this world. My mind can’t help but listen. I smile at images of mountainsides and beachfronts. All at once, I can hear everything I’ve ever heard.
Grating voices from memories that would have been better off forgotten. I have become compassion. Two nights pass, and a glass of whiskey carries my heart farther than anyone’s love ever could. I’ve been content for a long time. Fear, sadness, and loathing. At some point, I ruined all that I had brought here. These melodies have faded into some kind of tranquility. I won’t allow anyone to strip me of my lonesomeness. I’m fighting this love with knuckles bruised purple.
The necessary cruelty of the modern world. My birth struck fear into the hearts of the other gods. I feel a thousand seas crashing behind my eyes. I’m falling through skies that don’t remember my name. The birds don’t mind. For weeks, the smell of life (a shift in perspective) placed me in another time. I have become reason. I woke up this morning feeling forgiven.
I am not 13 to the 12. I am one. Alone. Unmoved by their sacrifices. I heard the music. Fantasy of a place over the rail of a balcony. Counting the blocks. Few people can walk alone, dream alone like me. My mistakes greet me like hungry wolves with the scent of blood in their ugly snouts. I don’t mind them. I have become peace. If this light could melt into the shallow sky, I’m sure it would give rays to the earth worth living under. My life has been long. I have become many things.
Ladies Is Trouble
We get to Belle Isle around noon, and the sky is clear, and the park is empty because everybody is at work. I drive and she gives me directions to the beach. On the way, I notice a flock of geese in the middle of the road. I stop, wait, and honk the horn to scare them off. She gets visibly angry.
“What the fuck are you doing?! Don’t do that, are you fucking crazy? This is their home. They’re such sweet animals! They saw the car and they were moving out of the way. You didn’t have to honk at them!”
“Chill out. I’m sorry” I said, contemplating whether or not she was out of her mind.
“I shouldn’t have yelled at you, but you really can’t do that. You have to respect the animals here. They live here.”
She is choking back tears.
“Sydney, I didn’t really consider that. I’m sorry.” But I wasn’t sorry. I was trying to deescalate a weird situation. I found it difficult to sympathize because I don’t even care about people the way she cares about these geese.
“It’s fine” she says.
We get to the beach and my favorite song is playing on the radio. She doesn’t like it. I wink at her. She is not receptive to it. She rolls her eyes and opens the car door. The two of us walk onto the sand. It is December. She takes off her shoes and runs to the place where the water meets the shore. I watch as the water reaches for her feet, never touching. At first, I’m angry with the water, but then I understand. For a minute I contemplate the existence of god. She turns around with arms folded and shoulders shrugged.
“That breeze is cold as fuck” she says.
“I could have told you that”
She walks over to me and I hold her for a brief moment. We are both facing the water and the sun starts to peek out from between the largest clouds in the sky, and there is light. So much light. I take my coat off and drape it on her shoulders.
“What are you doing?” She asks
“Keeping you warm.”
“it’s like 30 degrees out and you’re in a t-shirt.”
“’I’m not cold.”
She takes the coat off and extends it to me.
“Thanks, but I’m not gonna let you freeze,” she says.
“I’m not cold.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Ok fine, I’m gonna put it on the ground.”
She holds her hand out and drops the coat onto the wet sand. I look at her with eyes and mouth wide open. She laughs.
“I guess we’ll both freeze,” I say.
She gives me a very large hug and buries her head in my chest. I rub my hands up and down her back in a seemingly vain effort to make her warm.
“Race you to the car!” She yells abruptly.
We drive towards Midtown, and she asks if I’m hungry. I say yes.
“Let’s go to that Crepe place on Alexandrine,” I say, “They have nice tiles.”
“That’s such a weird thing to notice.”
We arrive at the small restaurant, and I hold the door open and pull out the chair and all. She orders the same thing I do. We spend a long time across from each other. We don’t talk much, but it doesn’t feel like we need to. She smiles the whole way through her crepe. I take this as a good sign. We finish and she spends some time touring the restaurant. She lingers near the bookshelf by the doorway and picks up a book. It’s a Henry Miller book that I’ve read before. I tell her that I’ll get her a copy soon. We decide to leave, and she asks if I can drop her at off at her mom’s.
We get to her mother’s house and the sun is setting. She gets out of the car and walks across the lawn. She stops at the porch, turns around, and walks back to the car. I unroll the window.
“What’s up?” I ask, “Did you forget something?”
“Yeah,” she says.
She bends over, gives me a quick kiss and runs back to the door of her mother’s house. I drive off with a sense of accomplishment.
When I get home, I lay on the bed, staring at the wall with a grin on my face. I review the events that took place earlier in the day and try to contain an actual smile. I think about all of the women I had been talking to in recent months. I start feeling guilty. I pick up my phone and begin deleting messages. After the messages, I open the photo gallery. I flip through all of the nudes one last time and then delete those too. I lay my head on the pillow and fall asleep, still grinning.
Hours later, I’m stirred by the ringing of a cellphone. It's Sydney. I answer it.
“What are you doing?” She asks.
“Thinking about you.”
“Sound like you just woke up.”
“Doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about you.”
“I’m at my dad’s. Come over.”
I get to her father’s house and she is sitting in her car, smoking a blunt. She clambers out as soon as I shut off the headlights. She grabs my hand. Before walking through the side-door of the large house, she stands her index finger in front of her lips. I tiptoe down the stairs to the room in her basement and I notice a few changes. There is a Christmas tree in the corner of the room, a jewelry box on top of the dresser, a collection of polished rocks on the windowsill, an ornate ashtray on the vanity desk, an acoustic guitar on the wall, and three or four candles lit in different places around the room. She makes sure I’m settled and leaves the room to get ice. Her cat enters the room as she leaves. “Be nice, Cosmo” she says. The Siamese cats hops up onto the bed I’m lying on and stares at me as if to say “I don’t know what the fuck you think you’re doing here, but that skinny broad is mine. If you wanna fight about it, we can throw down asshole”. I laugh at the ridiculous exchange I’ve fabricated and hold my hand facing up, flat on the bed. He comes closer and places his small paw in my hand. I pet him, and he begins to purr. She walks in and sees this. She is impressed. I get up to make drinks, and she asks for only one shot in her’s. I try to put two in mine, but the result is roughly three shots. I add the Bailey’s and cream without stirring. I hand her the drink and go back to laying on the bed. She lays down with me. She is facing me but seems intrigued by the drink I’ve made. I take a sip out of mine, and it’s not bad. I decide that three shots will be today’s go-to.
“Look at how beautiful the swirls are. I like that you never mix it all the way. They never do it right at the bars I go to” She tells me.
“Form over function.”
“Sure,” she says, confused.
“Tell me about the geese.”
“What about them?”
Here, she begins talking passionately of geese. Too passionately to recount. She tells me about her love for animals and she begins to tear up a bit when she gets on the topic of animal cruelty. I hold my hand out in the same way I did for the cat, and she responds in the same way. I pull her closer and move my lips towards hers. I move her hair back and kiss her. She returns it. She kisses the way I do. She kisses the way I taught her to kiss. And when I kiss her, it’s not strange or new. My tongue touches her tongue and for a moment, they walk together in the little place that our mouths have created. There is music, but I don’t know the song.
She bites my neck and climbs on top of me. Lips still chained together. I grab her little ass and she begins rubbing herself on me. The kissing becomes almost vigorous. I undo her bra and begin lifting her shirt.
“Wait” she says.
“Yeah, trust me. It’s more fun this way.”
“I trust you.”
She grabs her keys and walks upstairs to start the car. I’m a little distraught by the cliffhanger that just transpired. So close, yet so far. She reenters the room and grabs me by the hand. I follow her to the car. She pulls out a small black bag with an assortment of paraphernalia. When the blunt is rolled, she takes the first hit and passes it to me. I hit it a few times and pass it back.
She pulls out of the driveway, and I realize that this is probably a terrible decision, but I’m too drunk to care. As soon as she makes it past her block, she turns the music up loudly. The weed I’ve just smoked begins to take effect and I’m pleased by this.
“You’re so high!” She says, laughing. “Have you ever mixed before?”
“No. I don’t really smoke weed.”
“How do you feel?”
“I’m really enjoying this ride.”
She laughs and puts her hand on top of mine. When we arrive to the gas station, I have trouble walking, and she helps keep me up. I buy a pack of cigarettes and two bottles of water. She helps me back into the car and I light up a smoke. I begin feeling strange. She asks if I’m alright. I assure her that everything’s fine. On the way back to her house, the strange feeling starts getting stranger and my tongue goes numb. It slowly occurs to me that I’m about to throw up. I roll down the window and projectile vomit out of the moving car. She looks at me shocked and pulls over. I lay my head on my arm. There is puke all over the passenger door and all over my right arm. It all feels like a dream. I throw up again, this time with vigor, and it no longer feels like a dream. I am aware of my situation.
“I’m fucked up,” I say drunkenly.
“Oh my god! I shouldn’t have asked you to smoke. I’m sorry.”
“Ooooh this is gross.”
“Don’t worry about it, seriously. I’ve been through this before.”
“I fucked up man.”
“Drink some water.”
I take a big sip out of the bottle I’d just purchased, and it does not taste like water normally does. It tastes thick, almost like milk, which prompts me to gag. I walk out of the car, lean up against the nearest tree and commence with the vigorous spew. She looks at me, feeling concerned and guilty. When this episode of mayhem ends, I take off the vomit encrusted coat and wipe my face with the clean sleeve. I toss it on the ground and walk back to the car. She asks for my phone. I give it to her and fall asleep.
I wake up the next morning on a basement floor. I hear somebody walk over.
“Amer bro, what the fuck happened?” I ask. Amer is a friend I’ve known for a very long time. In high school, we skipped chemistry together to smoke cigarettes.
“Well, Sydney called me freaking out, so I came to pick you up,” he says.
“Were you sleeping?”
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s get breakfast.”
He drives to the nearest diner. I order two omelets and toast. He asks about last night. I do my best to recount what little I remember. The headache gets in the way of the memory.
I should call and apologize.”
“You already did. Like a million times.”
“I think I’ll really get my point across with a million and one.”
“Just apologize when I bring her car back.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You told her that you were gonna clean it. She didn’t want you to, but you insisted.”
“Great. Where is it now?”
“It’s across the street from my house. You asked me pick it up after I dropped you off.”
The two of us spend a good part of the day cleaning. It wasn’t too bad at first, but then I discovered vomit behind the door panel and that lead to having to tear it off. I was oddly used to being around vomit by this point, but I couldn’t stop thinking about last night. I just had to fuck it up. I say this out loud many times. Amer receives it intermittently.
“It was so perfect man. She had candles lit, and her cat didn’t hate me, and we were just lying there” I say as I am putting the door panel back on.
“Listen, on the downside: I puked in your girl’s car and made a fool of yourself”
“But on the upside: If she still talks to you after this, it’s for real”
I take the car to get detailed after cleaning it, just to be safe. I leave my car with the service guy and walk over to the waiting area. Inside, I see a man restocking the mini fridge with water bottles. He hands one to me and I take it. His name is Ian. We get to talking and I find out that he is the owner. He asks me about the “cat mom” sticker on the car’s rear windshield. I tell him the car is not mine and inevitably tell him why I’ve brought it here. He laughs, and I can’t help but laugh with him. Turns out Ian served in the military. He tells me stories about the Gulf War.
“My company had just flown into Iraq from Kuwait. Me and the boys were patrolling, but there wasn’t shit out there. The company before us had pretty much taken care of everything in our AO, but we had a new CO who wanted to add a few ribbons to his stack. Anyways, we get back to base and mail was getting passed out. Now, Wilson was one of the guys that got a letter every time mail came in, but on this specific day, I looked over at the fucker, and he was empty handed. That drove him nuts! I watched him pull out one of the letters he’d been working on and tear it into pieces. Next mail day came around, and again, Wilson got nothing. We could all hear him mumbling to himself. A couple of the boys started to fill his head with shit. Told him his wife was probably hoeing. You’d be surprised how often it happens. Anyways, poor fucker spent the rest of the deployment whining. Every time we went back to the tent, he’d start back up on his bullshit. Flipping his cot, tossing shit, yelling ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’, you name it. We got sick of listening to him, so a bunch of us convinced the platoon sergeant to move his cot outside. Couple days later, a corpsman was sent to check on him. Whatever he said to that Corpsman was bad enough to get his ass sent home. The rest of the deployment was pretty quiet.
We got back to the states about a month after that. Wilson wasn’t in our platoon anymore. I ended up seeing him again at the NCO lounge probably around ’93. We caught up for a little bit, and I eventually asked him about what happened in Iraq. Turns out his dumbass wife had still been sending all her letters to the base in Kuwait! Hahahaha! Remember buddy, women will drive you crazy for nothing!”
The service guy walks in and calls my name. I say goodbye to Ian and walk out to the car. I’m still processing his story. I leave the detailing shop with a little bit of a smile on my face. The sun is setting, and I have a calm feeling in my heart. I pull out one of the cigarettes from the pack in the center console and light it up. I contemplate driving the thing into the Detroit River, but I’m not sure how deep it is.
She calls me in the evening and asks me to meet her at her mother’s house. When I arrive, she is waiting on the porch. We meet on the sidewalk. I look at her, smiling with pure dread in my heart. She puts her arms around me and laughs. I hug her back.
Steel riveted consciousness supporting our minds and hearts. I got up early to go walking under the clouds of buffalo, worrying about the cigarette I left burning in the ashtray at the hotel. When my mind wanders, it always seems to find its way East, where a girl I used to love grew up. I’m revealing myself and rendering a portrait of futures I have lost to this erratic feeling that comes and goes according to the seasons of a state I left behind. My desires are simple, but I’ve worked to make them this way. I know I left Maine in a hurry, but I’ll call you on your birthday to make sure you still miss me. Now I’m spitting up these broken dreams, but they always seem to make their way back to me, so I create new schedules and write poems about women wearing black in an effort to subsist, but each morning there is a bird that flies in front of my window and chirps the same painful song. I had a long talk with myself a while ago about the stability of life in this dimension, but we concluded that life will go on if it must go on, and it may slow down for some people, but an absolute conclusion is never a real possibility. When I was a child I wanted to live forever. Years later, God gifted me with suffering and never let me forget it. I’m cast into moving waters, and I feel the vastness of Earth’s water as I’m dragged farther down by my own body. I wanted to understand this emptiness, but instead I was given the abundance of infinity. There is now a shattering sunlight in my mind, and I use it to carve sculptures of girls I once knew.