it’s not the dying that’s so hard – but this incessant surrendering o a life you’d expected to beat. against the odds we made it. drenched and exhausted on some metaphorical shore on an island of nothing. we made it. thank fucking god you were there too! otherwise i would have swam back out to the sharks. just said “eat me, cruelties, i’m through.” But you were there – reminding me we made it – then this. another round of chemo or fires or loss – grief like a beggar lady we’ve simply let move in. charming as the crazy and the sullen and the gone. when i first met you we had longing by the balls – and we dared to cultivate everything – desire, freedom, innocence – loss. buried underneath honesty – all of it true. now this. my awakening is thick like maple syrup and dark like greed. borrowing Medusa’s eyes i sank the ship. and again you save me.
yesterday when i died – the black sky parted its lips and said nothing. what i hadn’t finished was my hellos. and when that black sky refused to speak and the eerie silence made our insides tremble – the everyday suffering people of the world prayed for us. they prayed for us. it feels like there are less soft places to land – yet here we are – living through our deaths like the octopus. a camouflage here – hiding in a crack there. i wonder how many arms we can live without?
sometimes staying in bed or just disappearing feels like a better option than one more pull on the bootstrap or half-hearted acknowledgement of just how silver the lining really is. we are tired. it does not seem fair that while children are starving simply because they are not our own and people around us are ailing and dying simply because its “part of being alive” – that we should have to also put up with some hack job politic or crumby job or even a hurt of our own. we are really that tired. i’m hoping it will be okay someday for you to tell me how broken you are and for me to just hold you without trying to fix you or telling you how fortunate you really are. and i am hoping that once we have all admitted we are worn to the bone by all this busy-ness of being alive we can go back to feeding people simply because they are hungry and caring for people simply because they are ill. i’m not sure there is much more to figure out than that. maybe feeding and caring would be enough to change the world.
Your death is an angry wasp –
a hungry bear –
desire turned on it’s side,
I always wanted to tell you
something meaningful like god.
As if words could summon a heart –
a tiny rainbow of hope –
taking its cue
from some other side.
You were a Diva who understood dying
well before you were sick.
I was a poet
who traded my name for numbers
and lost my death
in a life half-lived.
Both of us always running
to beat our own lovely fall.
Your falling was a quiet farewell –
no more talking our way out of this one.
I said good-bye like a broken drum
while you commanded that heart to stop.
It seems we are both still trying to speak –
Me – a mad pen, tired bones, an ache –
You, a deplorable sunrise
We arrive sleepy and bent -
a crumpled wad of desire
for something new.
These wet hot streets -
a vistors reckoning -
But that is what you carried here
my dear -
packed neatly in your bags -
folded, creased, alert.
I tried to find the thing
that made London her own.
But, belonging to everyone
and spread so densely
through street upon alley upon court
she's a union of nations at once -
scurrying about in search.
The homeless prefer, it seems,
to sleep in broad daylight
beside a riot of words.
There are no shoes,
a tired beard,
an altar of water bottles
left at his feet.
I thought about quitting marriage
when I couldn't summon joy -
as if London should ring that old bell
back into awakening.
But it was dinner time again -
and every other door
an open mouth for feeding.
So we dine
so we sleep
so we rise once more
and when you say good-bye
i love you at last.
<>they gave me a little pill
so they could rip from my mouth
a word hoarder –
a shell of stories –
my having tossed caution to the wind tooth –
that taking made me think of giving
and how much there is to give still –
today, this very minute –
even as each of us hold our wounds,
ice our breaks, disguise our weaknesses.
i like that the lady who drove me home
gave me a one armed hug and said
no you are not fine
because she recognized there were bombs falling
and lights flashing and sirens blaring
behind my swollen crooked smile. Behind my face.
PTSD lingers around like an easy lover you cant quite forget.
You know how to handle her. You’re friends now. You can almost love her for having left. Then BAM! your sweating tears and lips are trembling. the heart – like an upside down fishing lure that has lodged itself in your throat. you’re fucking eyes all crying like a baby you don’t even know. Bitch.
Im trying to pacify her with a heating pad, sad coffee, slippers. no looking at mirrors. no noises. check. no sudden noises.
I tell you what; if I could get high without giving up 22 years of sobriety, I’d be all over it. As if something outside of me could make what’s inside of me right. Nah. But i can still see my brothers and sisters downtown, holding on to their treasure chest of traumas. and its cold out. PTSD is cold. maybe i can find a way to share these blankets under which i am finally starting to sweat.</>
what would you do, heart
without a cell phone ringing
or me texting and snapping and retrieving
one hundred and fifty times a day?
what would you say, heart
without me having to answer
every forty emails, deleting forty more
and bothering so much with Siri?
what would happen to you, heart -
in all your soft glory -
if you could just beat and love
and beat some more?
intuiting the vastness of stars
before night even falls.
catching his breath
before she walks into the room.
embracing my child before he walks
i remember when.
there was a feeling.
so much to feel really.
grief is a quiet color -
gardenia who lost her scent -
grief is without an hour -
has no second hand -
the face on a clock, gone.
there is only space
and a vacuous ledge to lean into.
my fear - not of falling
but that i will jump.
when i am a whirling dervish of doing
i can only be one way -
my heart sits on the sidelines
cheering us both on
but would never dare to interrupt.
i come here to be reminded of the color:
magenta fuscia aqua marine blue
a light yellow blouse carrying bones.
flesh and heart held up in the mix.
i come here to celebrate
even though i do not recall the occasion
until I am here
and sometimes not at all.
i sit. i admit. i pull away from the ledge
enough to breath
but not so far as to pretend
it isn't there.
my grief is a yellow tricycle -
empty basket -
under a timber of sun.
my grief is a magical final good-bye
i was not there to make -
with all the busyness
of being busy.
the doing of regret.
they say that is a stage of grieving -
as if recognizing its components
could allow for some dismantling -
but it is intact, i say.
as certain as a two minute timer.
this is how we are given a reprieve.
maybe even forgiveness.
the landmark for time.
at union square
i always carry tiny wads of cash
to give to men in doorways
for whom no doors are open.
they are always much too gracious
considering the cold
and the ridiculous wonder
that while i was enjoying the theatre
they were begging for heat.
i am embarrassed sometimes
for how much i have.
2 healthy boys a husband
my friends a job
there are not enough ones or fives or even twenties
to make the kind of difference
where you are no longer alone
or hungry or cold.
and i am no longer looking for someone to feed.
when i reached for the moon
and fell out of the crib
i was moved to lower ground.
when i fell out of the tree
and broke my ankle
i said who likes tree climbing anyway.
when i wrote a poem
and you said it moved you
i thought i could write forever.
then forever became a mighty long time
and somewhere i decided
it was maybe better not to reach.
or to climb
or to write.
because what if with falling
i could no longer move you?
and what if not doing means not being?
and what if the climber leaps?
i cannot say why
it should be okay
to have faith drawn out on a limb
as if some sort of reconciling
could warrant what's broken.
there is no word nor sign nor even prayer
that might at once undo the ruddy ache
and losing and finally
what is terrible then
is that we love.
and our loving, like balloons in a hurricane,
is torn from us -
even as we covet the softest sweetness inside -
where only his aliveness has touched you -
where only he has been
i imagine though
that he finds you -
even now, through crooked slumber
and honest despair -
where if your eyes were closed
you both could see
and even if you did not touch
you both could feel -
there where your loving has allowed
and a leaving -
and both as honest
as a thousand migrant winds -
back and forth forever undoing
what we think we know
people are dying -
and also there is cancer
like a maniac bully
breaking our hearts.
i wanted to feel something -
one time for itself -
without another something
to hold it up against
but what's so is the tragic beauty
of everything we love -
dissolving in front of us
as we become.
for your birthday we poured martinis -
threw fresh dough on a pizza stone
and marveled at the magic of heat and cheese.
just a few of us, this several pieces
of one family
you had made for yourself.
we all miss you.
in the evenings, when even the bones are tired
and every bit of energy that could be conjured
has been -
there is still a young rapper in his room -
discovering the magic of words -
and another boy, taking a vacation
from the wonders of the cosmos
to play a video game with a friend.
the noises are absolute.
my dog curls up like a pinto bean -
his big ears on alert.
something inside me hungers.
so much of a day spent doing
until the heart has had her chance to rumble.
the fingers their chance to skip
across the black pavers -
at last awake.
your dying is a lazy mountain waterfall
without an end.
i am looking under rocks -
in between the manzanita and madrone -
under moss and lichen -
hands deep in a hollowed oak
trying to find the empty.
but there is still too much.
an overwhelming overflowing of your aliveness -
a certain surely still at home
i am here
you left me a ruby rimmed with diamonds -
a crimson and aqua rug -
some china and a desk.
ee cummins,david sedaris,the best loved poems of jacki o.
a life of scripture, "everything that is yes"
we pretended to bury you yesterday.
but you were there at lunch
running the show.
and now i am thinking about what is lovely
and there you are again
we have always liked to organize things
you file beautiful
next to exquisite and lush and tradition -
your systems become tasteful displays of abundance -
while i like to purge
and name the spaciousness something pretty.
you bring the color
while i remove the things that filter it.
you have big soft hands and a warm heart
and room to hold every little thing that is sacred
my hands are dry from all the scrubbing
and i try my best
not to hold on
still, i will leave your home every time
with my arms full
of certain special gifts
i could not have lived without.
a poem clipped from an old magazine -
an ancient alligator suitcase -
the rusted locks and tired lining
proof that you can stop time.
and i would.
i wonder how many times i have taken
the fake poinsettias down -
tripping over my own feet
and the heavy curtains that line the closet -
the ladder leaning against the wall
like an old friend
i have used twice a year
the string of christmas lights in a round hat box
that i will not test this year
but i do not cry.
only some of them would have lighted.
and i would have wrestled them around the tree
like i do every year,
finding out a little too late
that one string needs to be replaced,
you would point out the holes
where the light is not enough.
where it is dark.
we will fill the tree with color again -
every year with your box of color -
we will fill the tree to overflowing -
all the sparkling glass balls and crystal boxes,
the shiny bundles of red berries
and intricate ornamentation -
the precious hold-it-in-your-hand beauty -
the loveliness of things
made meaningful by your keeping.
this time you say go ahead and give the poinsettias away
and we act like it is no big deal.
someday when we have grown weary of the attic
i will ask you for the ladder.
this is how she taught me
i will say
to make beauty worth giving away
and memories worth keeping.
i will have tiny clippings
of poems and articles cut -
things you saved
and finally delivered
as if it were no trouble at all
that you cared enough
to save it.
this year we'll get the tree early
and maybe spill red wine on the sofa
or not use coasters.
we will have known better
and that will be what counts.
that because of you
we will have known better.
i wanted to bring you flowers -
lift the scent of jasmine out of the air
or carry the wind with me -
to where you were hiding,
under the sleep-strained sheets
and the empty bottles -
to before pills and drink and men
could destroy you.
but you won't answer the phone
or the door
or the possibility of things being different -
because, you say,
there is no hope -
inside these dark hours -
these endless moments of grief -
this constant feeling of loss.
i say i have been there -
have run full bore into the darkness myself -
trying to get there
before it could come get me.
how i have buried myself also -
under the impenetrable longing and the shame -
and the elusive promise of forgetting.
you still think i couldn't possibly understand,
that no one can possibly understand.
but we do. So many of us truly do.
i once held the hand of a beautiful woman
while she pushed a baby out of her body
into the world.
Two years later, I held that baby
while we buried her beautiful mother
into the earth.
She'd been found dead -
kicked to death
in a crack house
just outside of town.
She was one of us -
someone with dreams and fears and love and concern -
a lifetime of new beginnings and loss.
And it started with just one little pill.
When i call you -
which i will do -
again and again and again
until you answer,
because i recognize that you are ill
and not just a pain in the ass -
i will say
come outside and smell the wind,
watch the morning unfurl with me -
see how it just opens up quietly
into the darkness instead of against it -
until all signs of night are simply gone.
and look how we are standing here alone -
just you and me -
and also a million other people
inside their houses and their cars
under their bridges and in alleys and parks.
All of us watching the light open up -
wondering how we will do it.
what we will choose -
while there is still a choice to be made.
finally, i got so tired of words -
and the way they were being used
to destroy what we love
and who we love
and even how -
that i quit them.
just stopped writing.
like the fury of a hundred years
could be contained instead
but when the answers didn't line up
and my own silence
started to feel more like cowardice -
i quit that too.
had a run with rage. and ignorance.
i found it is terrible to hate,
even the haters.
so I'm picking up the words again -
like so many wild flower seeds -
and i am throwing them
into the wind.
into the abominable hatred -
even as it tries to oppress -
i am throwing the words and the seeds and the light
back in the face of the darkness
and i am hoping
that in the midst of all this dirt and manure -
our wild flowers will grow.
And they will take over
all this shameful, barren bullshit
with their outrageous color.