Shame and Lightning



“I am Burning and Becoming…
I Heard about shame and I heard about lightning…”

I have spent I wonder how many evenings and dark mornings pausing beneath street lights, circling around and over and through and across but not quite in to the center of what has been festering in me, blooming, burning, becoming. How many trips did Bon Iver take with me as I worked my away around charting the symptoms of lust and love confused, of a discovery of myself, my body.
I have been pretending in my life. Not sleeping. Pretending. Because parts of what I am and who I am are hard to accept for me. This is about looking at myself, stripped of tragedy and triumphs, and I’m standing in the street alone in the dark, my heart fluttering in my chest as I make yet another connection–the big one about my body. Hunger started fucking me long ago. So much hunger. But I’ve passed that point and am now mapping the symptoms I’ve charted.
I am my body.
I just spent six years rejecting that notion, teaching myself with reason, logic, and books from the greats that I am consciousness–I am not my body. But I am. My body has been my instrument since its very beginning. It shut down when it was taken, and it hid so well I lost me for a very long time. It returned in a sick state I tended to once I was able to attend. My body has been my alarm system, enemy and foe and protector for a long Read More


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.


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.


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.



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



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.

I Know About Love

“I broke my own heart too. It’s broken and gone. Everything I believed in and everything I cared about I left for you because you were so wonderful and you loved me so much that love was all that mattered. Love was the greatest thing, wasn’t it? Love was what we had likeabossHemingwaythat no one else had or could ever have and you were a genius and I was your whole life. I was your partner and your little black flower. Slop. Love is just another dirty lie. Love is ergoapiol pills to make me come around because you were afraid to have a baby. Love is quinine and quinine and quinine until I’m deaf with it. Love is that dirty aborting horror that you took me to. Love is my insides all messed up. It’s half catheters and half whirling douches. I know about love. Love always hangs behind the bathroom door. It smells like Lysol. To hell with love. Love is you making me happy and then going off to sleep with your mouth open while I lie awake all night afraid to say my prayers even because I know I have no right to any more. Love is all the dirty little tricks you taught me that you probably got out of some book. All right. I’m through with you and I’m through with love. Your kind of pick-nose love. You writer.”

–from Hemingway for his first love; read by Derek Walcott at New York Public Library (“Hemingway and the Caribbean“)–well worth the listen. This part was my favorite thought. It sorta choked me up one winter morning when I was walking.

Books Early 2017

…to read about these epic finds go here to Ampersand Books and LitHub Bookmarks

Here are the links to some reviews of the ones I’m really excited about reading:

  • Future Sex (essays): Emily Witt on Love and Sex and Orgasmic Meditationzxxxssssssssslithub review:  “…Does the title of Emily Witt’s new book Future Sex refer to her own, or everybody’s? The answer is wonderfully complicated. Despite the intriguing sex-toy-centric cover art, Future Sex is less an exploration of technology and futuristic pleasure toys than it is a fierce and fearless foray into how our culture’s views about connection and intimacy are changing—and whether or not Witt herself is getting any in this brave new world that has such orgasms in it.However, Witt doesn’t ignore tech in her essays, which include one about that greatest of digital commodities, porn, and how social media shapes what we see as erotic. So it’s fitting that we managed to connect via smartphone through the ether while she was in Brooklyn and I was in France….
  • A book of essays exploring modern sexuality focusing on Internet dating, Internet pornography, polyamory, and avant-garde sexual subcultures as sites of possibility for the author.”–lithub


  • For the Woman Alone by Ashley Inguanta —ampersand books
  • (my personal favorite): Enigma Variations by zxxxxxxxxxddddAndre Aciman link here

  • “A novel divided into five novella-length sections, each focused on a different erotic obsession and possibility….”
  • and
  • The project is one of recognition and revelation within the reader: the book wants nothing less than the dissolution of your consciousness into its pixellated moments of psychological precision … the third section, ‘Manfred,’ grows a little tedious. Unlike Aciman’s steamy first novel Call Me by Your Name, most of the skin-to-skin contact in Enigma Variations occurs in the narrator’s head, and in ‘Manfred,’ Paul wallows longwindedly in the agony of delayed avowal … Intriguingly, as we witness Paul repeatedly rearrange his life around a new magnetic north, it becomes clear that his bisexuality abets his serial monogamy … Aciman has captured Paul’s bridge life delightfully well.
  • A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women  –Siri Hustvedt

    Siri Hustvedt’s essay collection–A collection of essays on art, feminism, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy from prize-winning novelist Siri Hustvedt.a-woman-looking-at-men-looking-at-women_siri-hustvedt_cover

“Siri Hustvedt, an authoritative and independent-minded writer on the arts and sciences, brings the felt experience into her smart, stimulating and hefty new collection of essays … What’s exciting about Hustvedt’s work is her desire for us to see the world anew … Hustvedt does not resolve her many questions, but her exhilarating conclusion testifies to the virtues of doubt … the strength and lucidity of Hustvedt’s good thinking calls us to have confidence in our own instincts, to be alert to delusions and inherited traditions, and to realize that many truths are fiction, and only exist to the extent that we believe them.”–lithub review

  • The Refugees by VIET THANH NGUYEN:

    The Refugees, is as impeccably written as it is timed … This is an important and incisive book written by a major writer with firsthand knowledge of the human rights drama exploding on the international stage — and the talent to give us zxxxxxcinroads toward understanding it … There is no effort to avoid the identity of ‘refugee’ — this book interrogates the term on political and spiritual levels, and the results are saturated with pain, memory and beauty … In this collection, towns are altered by war, relatives by time. In some stories, decades pass between letters home to Vietnam, as in ‘Fatherland.’ There is a thorny dissonance between past and present. The living protagonists are often forced to carry traumatic visions with them as they try to make their way in a new country … Nguyen is skilled at making us feel the disorientation and alienation of these characters navigating displacement … The Refugees is a surprisingly sensual book, despite operating in difficult political and emotional terrain. Nguyen crafts sentences with an eye toward physicality and a keen awareness of bodies and their urges … In an era where writers and readers debate who gets to write what, it is refreshing and essential to have this work from a writer who knows and feels the terrain on an intellectual, emotional and cellular level — it shows. Nguyen offers stories of aftermath, but also of complexity. He gives us human beings weary of pity and tired of sharing rehearsed stories that make them seem like ‘one more anonymous young refugee.’ In topic and in execution, The Refugees is an exquisite book.

(featured image )

To Something New, Something Strange


This strange winter has offered a lot of my favorite kind of days–the kind where the sun is blinding, an almost cold light, yet it warms the wooden floor beneath my socks, my large windows in this old house give me a 360 view of the white, bald landscape of glitter. The abandoned church across the intersection on my quiet avenue juts up white into the blue-cold sky. I can see it from here as I write. It was around 15 degrees this dotmorning when I walked to my appointment. And pushing the frozen steps and treads behind me, the familiar feeling I so love comes back to me, as it always does when I walk, which began and became a sort of meditation for me over a year agdot3o. My mind sort of starts to forget the temperature, and begins to notice the precision in icicles, the light coming up reflecting and drowning in the crystal, aligned perfectly yet different, on the silent porches I pass. The pines that overpopulate my little town are too frozen to feel the full weight of the mounds of snow on their branches, frozen in their bowing. And I watch for a few certain things: rhythm, juxtapositions, and the stunning mathematical symmetry–the geometry of nature. The perfectly aligned needles, the color they have faded to against the backdrop of a white wooden fence dulled by the season and weather, a whole other world of gray, and the skeletal branches of the burning bushes that line this one avenue like crayola brains, their branches now grayish brown and articulate and criss-crossing and of some design that is as old as the earth. The bird’s chorus, patterned to their chaos at that certain moment in morning. There is geometry all around us. And maybe it is just in this form or state of mind that I find it all so simple and yet sacred, there for anyone who sees it.

Once I hum along the streets to this rhythm of breathing and noticing and even pausing some times, that’s when my mind starts to open. And it occurred to me in a sort of unfolding a sort of truth I’ve known but never worded for something about the past couple years: I have been given a second chance–a second chance at giving this life a go, at becoming a woman from a new identity I held onto or dreamed up when all I was ended in that mental hospital, and kept leaving me for a year or two afterwards. It was death every day for a very long time. And this small part of me woke up every day and kept going, getting up every morning through the dark and then into the nothingness after the dark, and then into finding purpose, where I began making subconscious decisions as to what purpose I felt was mine–so many. I went from silence for over two years to a sort of coming to at the reflection of gray blowing branches in the puddle I moved around. How I had stopped and watched the sky reflect in it, and then I stared at the water itself and watched it stream down the avenue, and I heard it trickle into the gutter like a summer downpour Read More

The Key

from prompt/share over at Real Toads

The book I am currently rereading is Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I chose this quote from the last part I read to write this three-stanza poem:

(She’s talking about the story “Bluebeard”–the ancient foe of both genders and he represents a deeply reclusive complex that lurks on the edge of women’s lives, watching, waiting, opposing;Bluebeard is innate in all of us-it has no conscious origin. Also known as “the failed magician” related to other fairy tale figures that portray predators of the psyche: normative looking but immeasurably destructive. He desires submission, superiority, and power over others.  /the predators of the psyche and Jung’s Individuation process and Animus–the masculine strength that also appears in her dreams as specific symbols; the last initiatory step of the Profound Initiation into the Wild Woman aware…):

All creatures must learn predators exist–to understand the predator is to become a mature animal who isn’t vulnerable out of naiveté, inexperience, or foolishness.”

A woman must practice calling up or conjuring her contentious nature, her whirlwind attributes, whirling wind symbol–central force of determination (*focused, not scattered) which requires tremendous energy to her fierce attitude at the ready. She won’t lose consciousness or be interred along with the rest. She will solve, for once and for all, the Interior Woman-Killing, her loss of libido, the loss of her passion for life, while key questions provide the opening and loosening required for her liberation…without the eyes of the brothers {animus} she cannot fully succeed…masculine energy…”

“Asking the proper question is the central action of transformation-in fairy tales, in analysis, and in individuation. The key question causes germination of consciousness–the properly shaped question always emanates from an essential curiosity about what stands behind; questions are the keys that cause the secret doors of the psyche to open…if it is forbidden, it must be looked at, studied, and understood.”

It was a desperate thing–

turning towards any light offered,

as any flower turns to the sun. I thought maybe

maybe next time, the light will come from something I understand.

You smile, you nod, you agree…you keep your mouth shut and your eyes on me…

A posed doll, dreamed up like a doll and tossed and thrown about as such,

my painted salmon lips and brush-stroke lashes, trained to be tame, trained to give.

I could feel the strain and resistance in myself as I tried typing their script over

the pressed  hardwiring and design of mine. And all that I thought I had entertained grew old–

I, unchanging on the shelf. No identity to show? Then no identity to have. A nobody.
Tired, empty, but with a quiet something gnawing relentless at the corners of my guts,

when the lights went out and the room emptied, I summoned the light of the moon

and over a thousand nights I sought the question, the right wording to the question

that would open the back of the dress they stitched me up in, leading me out

and into my nudity, my body, my self. I conjured, casted, and picked apart

with the articulation of a mathematician over his favorite notebook

their script’s prescribed words in bold over the faint trace of the fonts beneath that were mine;

I chiseled, I cranked, I hammered–springs flew, nuts and bolts rolled away, in a sweaty-make-up-bleeding mess

I scraped up the first layer. My first sentence was the question.

I stood up and spoke:

“Who am I giving away when they demand to take?

and the seams came undone, the gingham falling away as I began to rewrite

over the faded words:

I scraped at their words over mine even harder.

It went on to another question. And as I read it, I felt my body growing in size.

Who am I?

and as I read it aloud, I broke through the tiny house and into the night

a thousand nights

under the moon transformed by light

and I turned towards it to bloom.





(featured pic by FotoFiction for Book Covers on Flickr)