October

Nikki and Jodie today’s always a bit rough. Love you guys. “yous girls”
For my sisters. 
Sometimes I wonder if, 

Besides your features

And your hands, 

I inherited other things

From you –

Like how sometimes I’m shyly afraid, 

Like how sometimes I escape myself

Like how I love spring and apple blossoms 

Like how maybe I’m afraid of rejection too. 
I wonder if at your funeral

I cried for myself instead

Not the beer tabs and pennies 

Found in your empty house,

Tears I didn’t mean to cry. 
I guess I think about how

I’d be different 

How I would’ve kept myself 

Instead of losing things. 

The entire act of sorrow-

I cry for myself again-

Because it hits like parts

Of my past without you

That are best forgotten 

But also traced over scars

That mean I made it. 
It’s the anniversary of you dying

Like leaves
If you were here would I be different 

Would I be braver

And a little stronger,

Little bit healthier 

Little more ok
I’m alright dad,

I found what I lost. 

But in October 

I wonder how it’d feel

To see your hands I see

When I look at my own

Maybe holding me for a sec. 
In some kind of different season

The act of sorrow 

I remember as your life 

Was maybe easier when you disappeared. 

I wonder if that’s how forgiveness works –

Not an end of grief

But a slipping away in early

Morning hours

And my own return to you

In my own early morning hours 

When I Remeber you.

Self Exam in the Mirror Down the Hall

All I wanted was the shadow

of your fingers

and cold eyes to kind of soften as

I gather my wounds in this tulip

and with you I would say

here

here

enter and close me up

 

I waited in your room

like this, folding and unfolding

my fingers over my palms as if it were

the tulip opening and closing,

bearing witness to my wounds

you know so much about,

and each time I closed them, I saw

a sort of smooth scar spreading

over old hacksaw stitches.

 

The clock ticking as it

pushed into impossible hours.

You are not coming, love.

And I swear I saw out the window an old comet

disappearing behind the horizon of the place

I fear this kind of shit goes—this intimacy, or the

promise of budding in Spring in this town

that never grows–just mud and dead-ends

and bent telephone poles.

 

This morning I have too much coffee

because my chest hurts.  The bright

rooms feel vacant, even disturbed somehow,

as if they have spent the night with me and woken up

hung over and filmed, my old whore petticoats

dimmed and faded blushes.

 

I look down into my hands and cup

them and close them and imagine little

black tulips hiding their centers,

not from me, but from the world.

From love. Rejection does this.

 

And I keep waking up at odd hours

in a box made out of black flowers that press

panic down into me

–an old panic, the kind that happens

when people leave.

 

And there’s his voice

repeating in my head

speaking in another language
and then nothing,

the silence plucking

sadness from me like grapes.

 

The chest pain I allow;

I switch to black tea

and cigarettes; to looking

into myself in the quiet noon saying

here

here I am

enter and close me.

 

You can’t cut a heart out of someone

if you’re not holding it.

 

Self-Preservation

The black fly on the window sill

I walk the dark hallways

barefoot in white.

Sleep. I cannot sleep.

My body shakes and rattles like the windows,

waves trembling.

I am silence.

Every law I have been governed by

dissolving in a strike of lightning.

Heart, heat, heart, what is this?

The panic that had risen like a monsoon

is calm and still, but rolling and boiling beneath–

me soft across the wood floors.

I can’t do this.

Do not come here.

The broken window sill, the sheer curtains billow from a gale

and the storm enters this house. But I don’t hear it.

The black fly drowns. Scurries. Tries. Out by the sea,

the purple dark blooming in the sky as the rains are coming;

I go out to stand at the edge of my island at midnight

letting it pour down my body.

Comfort comes against my will

and the edge of the cliff is near

but no man is an island, this I know.

Can’t he see maybe he is the ocean

and I am just a stone.

He is paddling hard in the distance pushing.

The sheets of rain hit me and he keeps on,

the boat growing near on the crest.

The heat, I cannot cool this down, I rake my skin.

Please, please don’t make it, I breathe out,

the tears are words I refuse to say.

I know he sees my pale frame on this edge, with

his warm eyes cast, these sure and strong hands,

courage in his chest, he is coming for me.

My god, he is coming for me.

I cast it—the spell webbed through my marrow is all I know–towards

his motion, you are the ocean can’t you see

and I am just a stone.

I call out the waves, I call out the lightning

and the wind, pelting stinging burning rain,

my anger growing

I arch my back and gather the elements in my arms

in an unyielding sphere

and I let go

the wave turns him over

the water swallows, the foam comes and leaves

the black fly on the window sill

is buzzing when I return in the lightning’s shadow

this house empty and cold

my return alone

it’s supposed to feel different…I’m supposed to sleep.

Shadows on the empty walls play like puppets.

I walk across the floor and puddles form

in the cracked dining room,

watching the white light inside that was too hot

shrink beneath my gown, then breasts, then skin and bone

ribs and blood and then I grow cold.

no man is an island, this I know.

Can’t he see maybe he is the ocean

and I am just a stone.

I crawl like a ghost onto the mattress

beneath the window overlooking the drop

to the sea

not seeing his boat break on shore

I watch the cracked ceiling in the howling wind

I lay down to it, the rain is seeping in

dripping and dropping on my cheeks like tears

I could never make myself yet now I am weeping.

My limbs numbing and hardening, toes to hips now

not seeing the figure on the rocks moving

toward the house below.

The last spell is for pain-

to stop the pain, to eat up the loneliness

that beats through my thickening veins.

I watch my girlhood in flashes:

years of fighting in flickering images. And then

the years of my womanhood–

trying to feel the sand on the shore when I had no skin,

years of building

this house out here.

The man ascends the white stairs, his shadow

passing up the stair well, passing the dead flies

at his feet.

I await the completion.

Absolution.

Washing all away out there.

My breathing slows and is now the only sound in the room.

Chest barely rising in its weight.

I cannot forgive myself even now.

He enters. I’m too frozen to hide as he nears.

Loneliness turns to fear that beats at my chest with wings.

I close so hard I shake.

I shake harder because he leans and touches my skin.

My god he wants to take it–the shaking–

and he does

and he makes love to it–

to me, I feel it on my body

touched skin

and suddenly the ocean of myself

is gone

and here he is with his

real hands and innocent eyes,

flesh and blood and bone

Can’t you see, he says, maybe you are the ocean…

and he takes the wings and quiets them

with his palm.

I feel a painful thawing.

It pushes me beyond fear and into something

like forgiveness

as he cups me up and tells me to bloom.

Love comes in doorways.

Love comes in from the long dark journey across your currents.

Love breaks and sinks and swims

touching you as hard as you are

and words fall

like tears down your lover’s face

as oceans of your own

tenderness tear through you and reach out.

Starry Eyed Seas

I’m stuck on what to write about for the blog, as I am in a sea of stories, vignettes, ideas, chapters, tabs, notebooks, note-cards, and a new storyboard on the actual wall. But this quote by Allen Ginsberg I found in my writing notebook is saying something to me in some kind of poetry, about my current life as of now and how it feels and how the creation of the book grows, and so on. So I am going to free-write a poem about Ginsberg’s quote, which is this:

“Without even intending it, there is that little shiver of a moment in time preserved in the crystal cabinet of the mind. A little shiver of eternal space. That’s what I was looking for.”

–Allen Ginsberg

 

“That’s-what-I-was-looking-for.”

When I look at it, when I word what I’m looking for,

it vanishes. Once I get to the word “looking”

I see the tail end of its nightgown moving as if underwater

rounding the corner or entering a door, carrying away

the simplest sentence I have chased all this time.

The words, the connections, move but also elude me. Like treasures

in lush green grass I get intoxicated like Sarah

in Jareth’s labyrinth, time escaping, all wrapped up by

oddities, curiosities, layers, touch, sight, smell, test.

 

So I go back.

“…there-is-that-little-shiver-of-a-moment-in-time-preserved-in-the-crystal-cabinet….”

Shivers of moments. Shimmers. Light. Slivers. I see Chekhov freshly pressed in Times New Roman:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

I carry so many shivers, gathering them in my notebooks and poems,

quick jots, so that I may take it to the keyboard and write the vignette–

the cut-out of my heart.

 

All these pieces are from one broken mirror, its large pieces

splintered; sharp diamonds reflecting the night sky overhead.

I near the broken mirror barefoot in the grass, and the pieces

look like speckled seas I could dip my toe in, then maybe my limbs and body

and then under into the cool diamond-studded water;

so deep is the purpose of my reflection

that it too eludes me–

the water, the night reflecting myself

contains universes, black holes and dwarf stars,

death stars and gases and vacuums

and molecules and atoms

and the graveyard for stars.

 

The purpose.

The purpose of the words? To reveal the shiver,

so shaken that words lose sound and then form.

To reveal the shiver–the trembling, clearest point

of guts and instinct and longing, pain, and beauty.

To reveal the shiver–which is ourselves.

 

 

Giving & Taking

I am writing a poem based on Louise Gluck’s line from “Nostos,” which is also the opening of my memoir I’m really making progress on. So here goes. Check out more poems at Real Toad’s Tuesday Platform.

 

“We look at the world once, in childhood.

The rest is memory.”

 

 

A small chubby foot, bare on the splintered fence, a heave and hoist.

Then my curled fingers reach for the top wooden rung;

wobbling and steadying, I have climbed the outside

of my father’s fence,

the lush expanse of yard all for my eyes to see.

Like a bird.

I bet I see what the swallows and hummingbirds must see.

 

The flowering crab hangs its pink blossom-laden boughs

low to the earth. Its sweet honeysuckle fills me

and the petals tickle my bare shoulder as the breeze lazes in.

Through the menagerie of blush and branches I can make out

the white dirty hamper of a farmhouse, the purple

of the lilacs slipping in and out of view.

The dirt drive where my sister pedals the Big Wheel in jerky circles.

The screen tent where Little Great Grandma sips lemonade.

I like her. She gave me sour sugary sips out of her

real glass, the ice long melted. She wears a sunhat

with a scarf around the crown every afternoon.

From my perch on the yard’s perimeter I can hear the zip-zip

of the tent’s door as my little sister tumbles in to see her.

 

My father is somewhere. He is always here. It is the one solid thing–

an unquestionable fact. When we are here on the weekends,

he never leaves us. Read More

Rush

Thursday Poetry Challenge at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.  This poem is first draft, just going for it, inspired by the picture of an oil painting by Paul Whitener, “Unfinished Landscape” 1950

Paul’s paintings were started with an underpainting of warm or cool oil paint thinned with turpentine. Paul used both rose and brown pigment for the underpainting in the canvas above. The contrasting greens in the landscape will be made more vibrant by these warm tones which will peep through the final applications of paint…

 

I treasured his hands–those cracked, dry, cut

and dug-up hands with the bitten nails

and callouses and blackened gashes. I watched

him hook my line as if I were his little girl. I watched

him wipe the grease from the engine on mom’s

kitchen towels, cigarette stuck to his bottom lip,

squinting his left eye at the smoke,

“Yeah I think this’ll get ‘er runnin'” as he fixes

yet another one of my cars.

 

Every time I went to my mothers since I was twenty,

I spent my time in the garage with Dave.

“Husband number three.”

There was hope in this one,

which I waved back and forth

almost carelessly, because anything happens.

 

When my father died, I was twenty-one.

Panic attack on the bathroom tiles and then

Dave holding my shaking body

and hushing me like I was a kid,

just “shhhhhhh…poor baby, it’ll be ok…”

his hand rubbing hard circles on my back.

 

He broke a lot of things.

He fucked up a lot of things.

Like boats.

He sunk a boat.

He chain smoked like a mother fucker,

biceps like Popeye on his short frame, back when

he worked at the lumber yard, before he got injured.

That was our thing together back then, smoking

and coffee in the treasure trove garage

(he collected junk from the dump and yard sales–

“this is worth five fuckin’ dollars!”)

and he’d hold up circular metal spinny spindly things

with screws in it and various attachments he’d taken

off and I’d ask him what it was, how it worked,

and we smoked and sipped and talked. I could

listen to him for hours talk about tools and gadgets,

machinery and equipment; felt like I was with a dad.

 

“Yer ma, I tell ya, I dunno man, I love her but…

she makes me crazy!”

–“yeah, ma….”

“Hand me that so I can splice this–”

 

The painting by Paul Whitener.

“Unfinished Landscape.”

 

Makes my eyes sting,

makes my throat hurt a little.

I didn’t see landscape before or while

I saved the picture to write about it.

I saw blood and gray matter, a bleached out brain

washing out like Whitener’s oils with turpentine.

Dave skulking around those houses

we tell the girls to never walk by.

Dave driving on the wrong side of the road,

oblivious and half-eyed.

Dave disappearing.

Dave’s mind a soupy, rotting,

eaten mess similar to my father’s. But my father’s

made him only softer, farther away;

Dave’s made him mean to my mother.

 

But not to me.

I watched him disappear in those rounded

clouds of Whitener’s–purple, orange, red

a fire bloating what space was left, with the sinews

of greenish yellow dispatched and unattaching

from the helm.

 

Four days ago:

“It’s rehab with all of us behind you, right now, or you go.”

…tell me tell me he didn’t say he’s leaving

“Fine. There’s the door,” I had said simply.

I wanted to grab his leg and beg him to try.

I became my seven-year-old self in heels,

there in the garage, stone-face, sweaty hands.

The doctors and officers in agreement

that it was probably too late for rehab.

Words like severity. Deep-in. High levels. His age and conditions.

Dropping dead before he hits rock bottom, if this drug has a bottom.

 

Three days ago:

Cops can’t find him. Restraining Order out.

“Dave can you help me build Emma’s bookshelf?”

The meth houses aren’t giving him up.

Dave, wanna go fishing?”

 

Two days ago:

I have to keep my doors locked.

Yesterday I went into my mother’s garage

to get the mower. Knee deep in bikes and boxes

and a broken down car Dave had crashed months earlier;

dust and abandoned tools, half-finished

pallet projects–and there I was, trying

to screw the handle back in it,

taking in sharp, loud breaths as the tears came.

 

I can’t write how I’ve seen him die off. The rot there.

I can’t.

The painting can. That painting of Dave

thinning down his soul with

methamphetamine like Whitener thinning the oils

with turpentine, –“the effects will visibly peep through

during the final application...

 

The red clouds lined thinly in pink–they’re moving

away into the distance, almost behind

the painting; you can see them move

like you’re coming up with speed on a drop-off

and the sky rushes to your face

rushes to his veins

rushes to the wind up the base of the canvas

rushes into the yellow and green warning that curls

before the eruption of sky red, blood red, pink body insides explode

rushes over the dead-end and off the drop-off

rushes away and spreads thin and disappears.

 

Self-Exam

All I wanted was the shadow

of your fingers

and cool eyes to kind of soften as

I gather my wounds in this tulip

and with you I would say

here

here

enter and close me up

 

I waited in your room

like this, folding and unfolding

my fingers over my palms as if it were

the tulip opening and closing,

bearing witness to my wounds

you know so much about, and then each time I

closed them, I saw a sort of smooth scar spreading

over old stitches, and the new ones

blended so well in these new petals.

Read More

Silent Centers

My father arranged me to frame despair

in the shape of a shell–

he said it

would make me look pretty

as he dropped my gutted pearl

into the water,

closed me in his palm,

and took me home for dinner.

 

I’d curl up in my empty body late at night

when the heater kicked in

and line my dolls up on the smooth

belly of the shell,

sweating and organizing and kissing them,

trying to make room, trying to love

and a forgotten piece in me would move–

like an isolated bubble, a pressure in my chest rising

until it hardened into a globe of glass,

and I fingered the marble

in my pocket each time he made me nervous.

 

My skin hardened into porcelain.

My lips a painted curve.

The girl in the womb and the doll in the house

looked at each other in the mirror,

and I was the mirror

I was a million different faces;

this cannot be explained any other way.

 

I became the dolls on my bed and

in their small house in the corner

I became their holidays and patterned wallpaper;

I became the patterns of my behavior–

trained, obedient, good.

I became the shell at the dinner table,

sucking up silence like the ocean.

 

I told myself

if I had nothing,

that’s what would come back.

And getting nothing back

meant you didn’t have to love.

And what was love to that girl

with her marble

and no pearl.

The Hollows

for Real Toads “Tuesday Platform.”

This poem is based on a dream I had. I am both freaked out and excited, as a writer. 

The city in my brain when I sleep

has wide black-outs the size of

my fragmented memories. I pedal down

an alley where dirty wash buckets

get dumped out open windows above

the Section 8 apartments we

so frequently took shelter in.

These alleys are crowded and huddled—a

fictitious labyrinth but still I am fooled

into believing its constancy because of

the telephone wires and iron fire escapes.

A man at a crate, wearing overalls and a red

bandana smiles his drunken grin, scratching

his bulbous purple nose, whisking out a tissue

from a bony wrist, something familiar,

a vague scent of lilac. Something about the speed

in a humming bird’s wings, rust and oil

and tractor parts fill my head. Honeysuckle.

Yes; my father called him “Pa.”

I turn what must be southwest

judging by the sunlight glaring,

but I am not sure. Then a block down

and right—a Parisian-like corner where

the next alley intersects. Buckets

and barrels of flowers, palette displays

and chalked prices. I pedal slower.

Round soft women in purple and daffodil,

berry-stained lips and a lavender water

scent that makes me feel warm,

like the sound of my grandmother, how she

used to say I sang beautifully. She had shells

on her wallpaper in the bathroom.

Beautifully

Beautiful. In the recesses of my brain, that

specific word signals my amygdala to

get out the boxing gloves or take flight,

and then Paris disappears because of this warning,

the alley swallows me up in darkness

and into an end once the word “beautiful

grabs a hold of me, ringing in my ears

the way it did when he called me that

when I was a little girl. Not even in dreams

do we escape childhood.

This end is a brick wall, graffiti-filled and strewn

with Find Jesus and Bob Marley posters;

I turn my bike away, back toward light, an anxiety

starting to glow in my gut.

I hit a different center now, where four alleys meet,

these are all alleys now, and I choose—with “beautiful”

still hanging on my lips like a stale cigarette—to turn south.

Southeast. Cobblestone and puddles. This alley

is quiet and I feel the need to turn, but the walls

on the sides are narrowing.

My thighs just scuffing the plaster. I look ahead

because it’s too late to turn around—no room—and

I see the path before me going on and on like a tunnel

with shafts of light, then shadow, light, then shadow

where unnamed dead-end streets cross but I can’t

seem to get to them. A cracked hand

reaches out a glassless window and cold porcelain

knocks against my knuckle. I am picking up speed but

look back to see what it was, and when I turn forward

again, my bike wobbling, another white porcelain

girl. This one has a doll’s face that is white and cracked,

glued or fastened together, her head full of holes

where doll hair used to be, I back on the pedals Read More