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?
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.
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.
i used to think
there was so much beauty in the tragic -
or such tragedy to be found in beauty -
and now i realize
is just a stepping stone
or away from
Off highway 5 at Livermore today,
a lady held a sign on the overpass
"I bet you can't hit me with a quarter."
I gave her twenty dollars and pleaded
please don't let anyone hit you with a quarter.
she spilled a broken tooth smile
and crossed herself
and i could see in her eyes
exactly who she was when she was eight.
my husband asked don't i ever worry
people will just use my alms for drugs?
no, i told him,
i only care that for a second
they have hope -
that they feel worthy of something.
i have heard a lot of addicts speak
about a "moment of clarity" -
and never did the story take place
while meditating in some cave somewhere.
That twenty dollars may not have changed her life
but she changed mine.
tonight i am listening to a cello concerto
on a vintage garage sale turntable
i scored for twenty bucks.
last night - a law and order re-run.
tomorrow - maybe cake.
it's easier not to be perfect.
people think if you are happy all the time
there must be some lack of depth -
as if only misery or worry or grief
could be measured against the truth.
i think happy is an unmeditated reprieve.
a joy for something not forgot.
a joy for escaping the narrows.
i see how we wear our hearts on our faces.
"mine is broken" or "love me"
and then how we do all these other things
to pretend they are saying something else.
there was a time
when all i could think of
was how to be more in love with you.
then all that loving
made others things to love -
so many in fact,
that all i could think of
was how to be more of myself somehow.
now i am just thinking about
how to be enough -
and also how it is possible
to want something so bad,
with everything that you are,
and not get it.
and still know that somehow
it is enough
to just be enough
it's hard to feel lucky
when yesterday's shadow
cast its hook into morning
and not even sleep could break the silence.
i died a thousand deaths
the graham cracker and chocolate coma
there is never enough sweet
to fill the hole
of your leaving.
i believe in rainbows and unicorns
and the impossible likelihood
that there will be a day
upon which we will again
fall in love.
sometimes it's the absence of weather
and not the storms
that feels so troubling
as if a torrential downpour or heatwave or drought
could better convince me i'm alive
it was the big of your hand
on the small of my back
that made the sky fall.
i have tried to pull daggers
from the soft cavern of my words
but dropped them against the echoing
i am you.
then the sun came out
like it was nobody’s business after all –
and we were meant to go on about our lives
as if the heart hadn’t been cracked open.
i called out to you –
a subtle gesture really –
just with my eyes
as if they indeed could speak volumes.
you were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,
unshaven and beautiful,
flannel pant legs haphazardly caught up in your rain boots.
“winter can wait” you replied,
never saying a word.
like a dog
with a little inbreeding
i try to remember what it was like
before melancholy -
or whether always the slightly sideways
was enough even for a child
to fell the deep sorrow of such beauty.
I have an ache the size of something terribly important – but am exhausted by the business of so much minutiae that I’m not even sure for what I ache, nor where the longing itself is located – would I fill it with one more trifle.
There is a pen
and so many drawers
emptied of words.
A stifled urgency.
i am always trying to outshine the sun. not because i want to be bigger or better or even brighter, but because it is ridiculous and impossible. i like playing with everything i’ve got at something, and not trying to win. i like to just be my brightest, not the brightest. that goes for smarts too.
at work i am hoping that what is important will seep through the superficial ordinariness of a day, and people will understand that when i came to meet them, i brought my heart. it may not be as tidy as all my paperwork or how i arrange their requests just so – but it will be there, raw and open and full of an enormous wanting, for them to win. i will want you to win.
in the evening when the bones of my feet remind me they have tread far enough, and i am wondering, again, how the night sky stole away with my day, my sun, before i was finished – before i could do every single thing – and also show how i love you, i will worry. but i will remember that you want me to win also and that you know for me to win, my heart needs to be right there with you, in your hands – even as my tired feet elsewhere rest. because of this, i know you will always find me.
I have been looking for a cure for as long as I can remember. First, it was for food when I was hungry and for something to drink when I had thirst. Once I realized I could get my needs met, by asking to be fed, for a glass of water, a blanket – it was as if finding something out there to fix what was needed in here
became the blueprint for my next decided action. I quickly began to look towards friendship when I was lonely, an excuse when I was mad, a party when happy, a lover when amorous, a bed when fatigued. Soon it was coffee when tired, aspirin when sore, hat when frizzy, diet when fat, and absolutely anything when bored. So that every feeling should be resolved or counter balanced. An antigen found. A remedy procured. But what if. What if I did not so rashly fill my hunger, sate my thirst, friend my loneliness, blanket my chill? What if tired were allowed to be sleepy, and chubby, plump, and frizzy, fro? What if lonely were lone, and mad just that? Would all just simply BE?
I always wanted to steal time – to sneak into the fissures and crevices of it’s passage before NOW was gone, and put a halt to it. As if somehow I could manage a suspension. An idling. A breath forever caught in the inhalation. Spaciousness without borders. No tick-tock-ing of the forever omnipresent but elusive clock. A still-life.
The hurry of childhood saddens me. How I raced at it with nothing but eagerness and zeal. How my own children can be so swept up in the promise of aging that tomorrow seems like more of a gift waiting to be granted than today appears to be a miracle. How we plan. How we dream.
Today, a 10 year old said to me, “Me? I’m a lonely sorrow”.
He wasn’t sad when he said it, merely alive and spontaneous and unguarded. The words did summersaults off his tongue and bounced around in the car until they fell like lead balloons into this mother’s lap. She stole the line.
I like to think that we are not broken. That our wounds are the glue that keep us adhered to life. And maybe this is where Time stands still. When we listen. When we allow meaning to fly
Anything but writing. And I mean anything. Shoot, I ‘ll crawl under the sub-floor of someone else’s house to look for potential leaks, even though there is no indication of one, before I will sit down and get my work done. This, in the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, is called “resistance.” I have all flavors. It started when I was 9 and I realized I was a writer. I wrote a poem in class and that was that. I was a writer. That it was a relatively deep poem for a nine year old may or may not be true. But of greater significance is that, upon completing it, I knew – and I mean KNEW – that I had just discovered something – a part of myself – that was as important as air and water. I had found my voice. What followed this “realization” was a series of distractions. I was to be the first female President of the United States. Next, a doctor. An attorney. A teacher. A writer again (heavily medicated with alcohol and consequentially, unable to do anything with the writing that I actually did), a bar-tender, a waitress (these last two only AFTER receiving a BA in English Literature and a MFA in Poetics), a sales rep., and finally, a Realtor. A gal who sells a lot of houses and writes just a little bit of poetry. The book suggests that if we were all taking up our callings, and doing what we know in our hearts we were put on this planet to do – that one genius about us that is ours only – there’d be no more war, starvation, poverty, addiction, mental health problems, etc. Sounds good to me. I, of course, want to chain smoke cigarettes while I am writing and since that feels like a recipe for an early death – I don’t. Also, I don’t write. This is the resistance Pressfield is talking about. I wonder what all the people I love are not doing. And all the just so-so friends – what is it that they are not doing that they were born to do? And how, when we really like someone, finding out this gold morsel of what is under all their doing-ness and the busy-busy and the roles – how they are even more like-able; how suddenly they are fascinating. I am going to put it out there. I am going to ask. What are you NOT doing that is your true calling, your forever dream, your heart’s desire? See what shakes loose. Maybe it will give me something to write about. And, if not me, then maybe you.