~the Point, & in a Poem
DIFFICULT DEGREES 2017
(an introduction to a poem/work-in-progress):
My childhood memories consist of either feelings OR images–feelings in my chest of space and a sort of vacuum…like a nameless, empty thing that can be filled by other things, other people, other parts of myself I could easily call upon and discard, but it constantly emptied, and I forever got hungrier–and then transparent in how lean I was growing and not developing but filling, emptying, filling, emptying, knowing the walls of this kind of stomach were wearing thin. I am still learning to or trying to learn my autonomy, and I am not sure I want to find out if that sort of loss can be taken back. As for the visions, well that’s the funny thing–the images are steeped in color and sound and smell and more than ever–the feelings in my stomach. I cannot remember much about three years of being a six year old to an almost nine-year-old in a bigger city except that my sisters were starting to slip, or just did, for a while, there, and I felt cornered and afraid a lot, and the nasty green/yellow stain-like flu in my stomach was all the guilt I carried that I didn’t understand unless I released the temperatures and pressure and acted out through play, which I certainly did. But I kept a tight lid on it. I remember my sister in red corduroy’s rollerskating on tin wheels at my command in our basement after schools, the drain wet in the floor. The more I laughed, the more pleased she was. Somehow my sisters and I went our separate ways after moving there, but managed to remain somewhat fragmented together in the house. But fear wasn’t shared, sadness together over our real father I do not recall, though I remember crying alone for him every night for a very long time between my bed and the wall on the radiator.
My visions and feelings tell me we went from four, five, and six year olds who didn’t have a care in the world with our mother married to our biological father, staying out at the farmhouse with all the aunties, uncles, and cousins–I have a menagerie of body memories of the times in around four or five years, I remember very little, but I remember in a sort of tunnel of clips and sounds and smells–music from the seventies, and Pine-sol in particular
. And my stepfather’s shoe-polish and aftershave.
But after second grade, I can almost draw the picture of myself falling apart and inward. But that’s another story. My sisters though, we never made a pact, we didn’t always have each others backs out in the open anyway, where it wasn’t safe. But in the recesses of the sanctuaries we were able to create together late at night when everyone else thought we were sleeping, we were each others’ home, we respected how each of us was designed (though we hardly understood ourselves) safety, and sort of a reference to each other like-
“–did you think he should have hit her? OK, I didn’t either, maybe it’s wrong? What do we do?–“
We entered into a world we were being taught to fear somewhat
and we were completely unequipped in the ways of maturity and functioning growth, etc.
Three degrees in a similar environment
young summer nights found us in imagined sanctuaries
together, not impenetrable–but strong enough
to maybe remind us that we had each other, but the world
would only get meaner. And maybe strong enough to have the hindsight
that we weren’t going to be entirely okay, ever, but if
were okay together, than that small sanctuary would have to suffice.
We share histories, though of varying mass and degree,
we tried to grow somewhere between always losing the ones
we loved most, believing we deserved loss, believing only we could help ourselves
out of violence and harm, no one else would probably–and our safety
would come later when we grew up, or under the witness of others around.
Losing, abandoned, forgotten, abused, teased and abused on and off as a whole,
once you get beaten down and played so many times and your humiliation comes at the hands
of thee power position and guardian–at the ages we were ate–
What other choice did we have?
Each stage of equations had spun me out
of my paper-doll dress recital curtain and naked into
the polar sun, white and stale metal hospital warmth,
the decay of my closet no longer able to hold or keep me,
my body repelling from and away from the only other option–a sort of
existential annihilating space, empty
with no reference point or gravity, by body
turning and revolving in the infinitesimal system of disorder.
With theory and law as dense as their own basis–
as a small girl with a highly developed survival skill
of withdrawing and disappearing,
I made a map,
charted by the constellations people left
at my door, or in my prescription bottles,
or in the tone of a voice on the phone
that uncomfortably told me they understand,
to hang in there–my awkwardness
a swallowing of tears and humiliation–because then I had to see
myself through their eyes–at what I had become.
A constellation. A brilliant map-
away from the embarrassed acceptance in the eyes of
someone who once loved you but does not
recognize you without your borders
without your smile
without a personality, an identity
you once came equipped with,
–away from him meeting you on the street,
the ache of pretending to not notice their eyes
scan for an exit, scan your face, and
away from their belief that some people
who have gone where you have
never really come back.
Madness, they do not tell you, is as lonely as it is scary.
But a map of that night, that space,
and I started seeing without knowing how
that the answers were not static, they were not concrete,
they were not written. They were not
even thought of–they cannot be touched,
they were sketched stars in reverse,
they were the universes in my irises unraveling,
the answers became something changed-something new-
through the radioactive pulse of my unstable heart,
shedding another degree and sparking a new one.
And after that burning
-like a coal mine…like an oil rig…piping and gloved hands and sweat and noise…
-like becoming skinless, an existential skeleton out in the ether
-after that burning-the last of the burnings-(there are no words for the others)–
a period of mechanical, metallic, empty, screeching and unaided disruption, destruction, separation, breakage, dismantling, the numbering of the pieces and counting what piles were left, broken useless ends and corners discarded into space-out into those starless, stale days;
I do not remember my eyes working;
I do not remember recognition even, or fear;
I do not remember my throat or my hands reaching for some kind of comfort;
what I remember is feeling–feeling a feeling for the first real moment in my life
and it swept across days, weeks, months, years
–tears and pain and anger and grief and sadness I had never thought possible
See I was learning that submission to the dark mysteries
my heart and mind and hands possessed
were wounds in the womb of where I had to first
learn to breathe
My body began to build some kind of structure
that could handle oxygen again, in small doses,
but on the inside there was an entire operating system
new and changed
-scribbling words and reading the medical books in my attempts
to gain control were now almost forgotten,
my stitches up my skin
healing each part of myself into the other stitched up piece.
With each dominant emotion shaking me, another
department in my mind–the worlds of words
had strewn together an open-ended narrative, stitching up
my skin in sentences I had not yet rehearsed–
but the words were coming nevertheless, accelerating
and then pacing in difficult degrees I was
developing a clarity for.
To not be a girl anymore
in a pale nightgown
in the shutting of doors
To be a woman emerging from
with dirt under my nails and the armor that comes
with losing it all and having nothing left to lose but you fight anyway,
scarred face, scarred bod–
unblinking and beautiful into the morning.
I reach for the cycles and circles of degrees like encapsulated bubbles-
bubbles tight with my words that arrive on tongue and lip
with tear and bone,
not measure and foresight,
expectation and pride.
The temperature in my beating body,
a body submissive to where I carefully select new order
with a lightness of touch, combined with the old habit
of dread and preparation.
The temperature is new–a falling down of degrees–
but the changes, the chemistry of this new script, are
becoming new elements entirely–
so I feel with my pen
to chart another way to discover–to discover what I
am not sure at first…
each word connects to new connections
in my body, and my body is binding itself
into something real and whole,
self-possessed and by my design alone.
I have sabotaged and rebuilt
and rewired and started
with a fuel I’d never, ever tasted before–Self-Love.
Self-Love and will.
My body is my memory. My memory is my narrative, which is my story, which has gaps and blocks and stitchings and bridges, best forgotten dark alleys and abandoned farmhouses, but also a shared swing beneath apple blossoms with the two girls that grew into women while I was gone, my sisters, but they waited in the wings until I found mine.
–As I write this, right now, they still gently wait in my peripheral-
the only proof for them of my healing and strength being time and consistency–
they wait, nudging me on always and never, not once, crossing my boundaries they
allowed me to build with them over childhood. As if they knew, somehow, they had faith
in ME, that I’d figure it out my own way, alone, as I knew it had to be done and as all
of us who’ve gone mad know there is no taking anyone with you–they waited, all these
years, letting me set the pace and distance and even how far I was going to push them.
(the first poem Difficult Degrees can be found here, from 2010…my, my, my how things have changed…)