I see your pictures on social media
a part of me is envious
of your freedom
even though women many years before
either of us
had absolutely no freedom and only those
with enough money could consider taking
a woman as their lover
it is hard to imagine
each generation I suspect
forgets the sacrifices of the last
cannot envision a time when
it was illegal to love
my experience was never that awful
I had freedoms many women still do not possess
and I am grateful for that
but sometimes when I see your
youthful face and the grace with which you accept love
how natural and easy it feels
I recall how I began
hiding in dark bars, trying to fit in, failing
never one to play endless games of poker face
I didn’t fit in with my own kind then
but if I’d been you
born in the sun with your turquoise eyes like the Donovan song
I might have had on my arm
a whole host of dreams and not
dabbled in boys for a few futile and unhappy years or
felt I couldn’t have had children and let
my fear and my constraint decide for me
you are the age my daughter might be
and I would like to think I’d have
done all you have done had I been born
in a time of greater acceptance where
women who love women can grow their hair
and not have to cling to stereotypes or subterfuge
carrying knots of shame and confusion
like blankets never stretched out and slept on
I would have gotten a tattoo and maybe
been less shy and apologetic
I remember at 18 that’s all I seemed to do
sorry to my family for not having turned out straight
sorry to my friends for being the odd one out
sorry to the gays on the march who thought
with my dresses and my long tresses I was a weekend
if they only knew
what it took and what I sacrificed
maybe they understand now
but we’re all a little older and
you don’t recapture what you felt at 18
you remember it like a language
I spoke the language of trial and error
I suspect you speak the language of love
just a little freer
so forgive me if I envy you as you walk past me
hand in hand, laughing, the edges of your hair
hitting your waist
like a Summer tidal wave.
SMITTEN – This is What Love Looks Like – Poetry by women for women – an anthology of poetry published by Indie Blu(e) will be out OCTOBER 2019 and available through all good book sellers. Please consider following SMITTEN’s FB page at https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/
If you are interested in supporting this project in any way please contact me @ email@example.com. All LGBTQ projects are a little more challenging to succeed and we want the 120_+ poets who have work in SMITTEN to be read by many! Indie Blu(e) and their submissions rules can be found at www.indieblu.net
When I’m not telling people
I am the least competitive person you’ll meet
I shouldn’t have moved to America, I am an anathema
I am nevertheless, competing with myself
the breakage, subtle and merciless of my whole
appears to be my greatest talent
should they look me up in the dictionary
I would stare out bleakly at Consequences in Fetus of Nicotine In-Utero
it began before words were formed, a slow
incompleteness quite unlike the robust energies
of my relatives
a thin, wan girl, slow to learn, I made up for it by being sporty
denying the gnawing, gnarling pain in my stomach
was more than a night terror
swimming for medals was competitive after all but
didn’t feel so when, head under water, the cheers sounded
like waves breaking on distant shores, easy to forget
noxious rinse of chlorine in verruca filled inner-city
swimming pool where small measure of fame could be found
among cast-off plasters.
Beneath water I felt powerful, unmolested, not burdened
by sandwich of pain in my gut or how
no-one for me sitting among keening spectators
when I came up for air.
Since then, fantasy has been my succor, I can’t deny it
perhaps I have lived half in petri-dish and tree house
with ‘here be dragons’ written on its door.
When teachers told me; I wasn’t behaving like a good girl
I said ‘make me‘ and spent the afternoon kicking muddy
kid shoes against linoleum hallways
what do they think we imagine as, willful, disobedient, opinionated
we are shunted from our positions as ‘well behaved’ to the
shrine of sinners lost in plastic corridors?
We learn the company of other Reparates
is oddly comforting, no-one to remind us we cannot
make sense of numbers and still struggle with spelling
soon I gave up trying for A’s
locking lips with strange boys who wanted my best friends
instead of this disinterested girl
briefly kissing felt like swimming underwater
but coming up for air was much harder.
I am teleported now into a body and time I never imagined
surviving this long or sitting at this table, watching birds
battle their pecking order outside in a hostile green world
I rarely visit
it’s not reluctance or shyness, they have grown comfortable with
the shifting skin of me
something that happens when you begin to leach
that essence of youth and vigor
realizing, if you can make it out of bed today
you’re doing better than the day before.
I hear in my head, the scold of my mother
who believed I gave myself this illness
and much as they’ve told me that’s madness
I am often found returning to those words
as if they have some clammy power over me
which of course, they do.
I know I was well and then I was not
just like you can remember the day you lost your virginity
or survived a car accident or inherited a country cottage
it’s a day when colors and sounds change
in this case, terror walked into my throat
sucking on me, whispered; bitch, this is your new normal.
Fight as I may, these years have unfolded like those
paper flowers I used to buy in joke stores
put them in water and watch them bloom
only long enough before turning to ink and
wet tree pulp
it’s a form of flaying when strangers are kinder than
those you expect
angry with yourself for not learning sooner
expectation leads to disappointment.
This could be why I didn’t
enter many races or attempt to claw my way to the top (of what?)
better to stay low and wait it out until
you can have your turn
only sometimes, waiting uses up all the time you have left
then it’s almost too late and you have to change
Nowadays I compete with myself
can I cure the beast that’s become constant companion?
Will it matter if I do?
What happens afterward?
Fear is mauve and dives and swoops like unmated Mockingbird
I hear the kitchen clock and fast thud of my tired heart
Somewhere, I’m still the girl in the treehouse who says ‘make me’
perhaps one day it won’t be disappointment but
something lovely, I can only hope
though my body likes to punch me in the gut
as I fall asleep and try to dream
thump, thump, thump, my mother’s voice
this was something you did wrong
thump, thump, thump, my own voice
no it wasn’t this was an explosion taking the long way around
even getting half way there would be some kind
which is why I always said it’s not about winning
but making the effort
to which I was told, that’s pretty negative foreign-born-girl.
Where’s your sense of spunk? I think I lost it somewhere between
throwing up for 4 months on end and the doctors saying
maybe it’s incurable…. ho ho ho …. you see
I’m not from here, I don’t belong
though where I came from I hardly know anymore
so I will forge ahead, outcast or survivor, pick a damn straw
with every passing year I realize
I can’t win, I but I will fight
MAKE ME I whisper to myself
bloody well try to MAKE ME stop.
A warbling, holding, green glass pain
Like joined hands make paper cut
Invisible like girl in crowd, falls
Deep as ink without light
Stinging with clamoring cymbal
Tears almost bare themselves as first night lovers, tremorous
Retreat beyond the naked streets
It is not brutal gnashing strength
But soft lipped resignation
And a little elipsing hope
For bare faced ceasement
Lain like prayers and rushes and thrown flowers wetting paving stones
No ceremony. Only, black cars devoid of dust
A trail without salt. They bent lower to seek. Not yet.
It’s hard to say it. The wind chokes words. Before.
We walk on. Omphalos in fatigued lament
Toward reprieve, illuminate in muted tempest.
She doesn’t look sick…..
She isn’t sick.
But a black hole is eating her from the inside out.
The devour has no real description
It defies the usual ones, it has a wider mouth, deeper jaw, longer bite
The thing of it is .. the shame .. that’s the worst part
The little voice which sometimes sounds like your mother and sometimes sounds like every voice that ever said; What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you snap out of it?
Sometimes … a day will be piercingly beautiful … like the most beautiful song you ever heard and every sense will be electrified
And still you will long to fall on the ground sobbing
If they saw you they would ask; What’s wrong? It’s a beautiful day! Why can’t you appreciate life! Are you ungrateful?
And you would nod your head and admit; Yes I must be ungrateful. How else can you explain it?
For those who believe in God, you feel stricken, maybe you feel God is punishing you for some transgression with the black dog who never leaves your side
If he does leave then you know he will return and it is just a false waiting game, a pose of chess pieces with their fates already inscribed
They talk about other things that matter and feel empathy, sympathy
But when someone has a mental disease they are considered weak, inferior, selfish, inadequate
Wherever you go – there you are
Sometimes you wonder why it is you can write so much in November and nothing through July.
As if a giant claw had possessed your feelings and sank its nails deep into your marrow
When you date people you feel as if you should come with a disclaimer;
I may look pretty, I may have qualifications and a clean house, but beneath this surface please note … I am subject to changing and crying when the sun shines for no discernible reason
Sometimes in the middle of a party you want to run away from the crowd and bury your face in the grass out in the forest – feeling more alone than if you were locked underground in a prison cell
Often there is absolutely no way of describing this so you simply do not and that sets you apart as someone who carries a dark feeling without a voice
Occasionally someone will remark on the sadness in your eyes and you will smile as hard as you can to dispel it because it feels like a giant stain that everyone could see
If they cared to
Many times in subtle ways people will show you that they think you are weaker than them in the little methods of selection and choice
Family will condemn you and sharpen the quill when you are down because it is easier to kill a deer when it has fallen
You try to be grateful and you are, but it never seems so in the midst of sadness because sadness will devour any gratitude whole
And lovers will tell you … you’re not even happy to be with me are you? And you want to say, oh yes I am! But the sadness will envelop your voice and they will leave you … disappointed
There isn’t a week of mental illness, there isn’t a day for depression. There are years upon years upon years
And little adverts on TV about “If your current anti-depressant isn’t working considering taking (and paying) for another one to boost it!” Just fill you with impotent rage.
Often, you feel you are not worthy simply because you are depressed, it is a stigma that invades every aspect of your being, you believe you are not worth the same as others because of the darkness you carry around on your back
In the early morning when you lie in bed and the first rays of sun come through your window, you may forget who you are, and decide you are not going to be labeled or given a description, you are going to be
and that may last a while until the next time you feel like blowing your brains out
and then it’s the greatest betrayal you ever felt and it seems as if you do it to yourself
like a hand inside a black velvet glove
stroking dreams until they grow cold
I’ve been told I’m a chronic pain in the ass
after all, it’s easy to destroy a child in an adult’s body
with past-tense words
and now in the time I’m meant to be at my strongest
chronic has visited me and stayed a long while
on a good day I think; This will not be forever
but temporary has always been a long way off
the doctors love to tell us; It’s incurable, get used to
living like this, hostage to something unknown and strange
as if that’s a normal thing to do
but if enough of us live with chronic illness, it will become normal
and that is not a good thing.
Before this …
I took chances, because you think
I’m invulnerable, sometimes I can fly
health, you take for granted
though I truly convinced myself, I had checked the boxes
right weight, exercise, organic, vegetables, no pre-made meals
(well, this is what I told my doctor, sometimes a couch counts as exercise, right?)
if I ate a slice of pizza, it was a treat with friends
though I like root beer, I never drank it
maybe making up for cigarettes, smoked in my twenties
but I thought if I keep jogging, if I keep living healthily
I won’t be felled, because you ARE WHAT YOU EAT.
A few months before I got sick, I recall
feeling strong, climbing through snow drifts and laughing
boundless energy, working long hours, feeling intensely alive
people saying; you look so healthy, your skin is radiant!
Those are not things people say now, unless
I apply a lot of make-up, to camouflage my fraying edges
instead it is me, who declines invitations
I am sorry I cannot go with you to eat, even though eating out
is the number one leisure activity where I live
because my stomach is ruined and I cannot digest much
I live plain and simple (and boring), like a nun and I am numbed
to the pleasures of wine and sauces and garlic, spices and oils
not recognizing my bloated mid section in the mirror
from the girl who once was told
she had an hour-glass figure, with a wasp waist
could run for buses and catch them in three-inch heals.
I know everyone has their burden
but when you get sick and it doesn’t go away
life becomes a series of scolds and let downs
you find out who really loves you and who harbored an anger
used the opportunity of your downfall, to insert a knife
it is the cowards way of course, but freedom of sorts
for none of us need, that kind of negativity in our lives
there is a blessing in disguise, when you find your tribe
the people who care and know the real you
not wanting to tear you apart, because it’s easy to kick you when you’re down.
But blessings do not salvage, the hours you spend sickening
remembering how you were rarely felled in past years
strong of body, sound of mind, juicing and walking ten miles
everything is turned upside down, inside out when you find
a burnt fuse, at the end of your outstretched arm.
There is no cure, there is no future
when you live, in a jar for the jarring
for a long while, I blamed myself
maybe in part, because someone I trusted told me;
“It is your fault, you must have somehow caused it”
easy to throw stones, at glass houses
I was a glass house, with many windows
break one and I cannot repair it
the wind will come in and make of my space
the sun will come in and make of my peace
Those things that brought me joy, were gone
instead, the regiment of illness strode in and stood firm
you cannot feel passion, when you are sick
ageing in hours, rather than decades, trying to stay above water
it is hard to feel hope
you rely upon the kindness of others
which is hard to do, if you are not used to it
and when they lift you to the light, you promise
if I can recover, I will try ever so hard to never be ungrateful
but with every mercy, is a dark day in hell
those days take it all out of you, like a scourge
the sickening can age you, more than a nightmare
one minute you recognize yourself, the next you are unknown
vulnerability, of not being able to take care of yourself
the expense and fear
your world crumbling around you.
These are things you get used to and when you have fallen
to the bottom and can no longer get up
that is where the truth lies
that is where you can find
your true self and the end of fear.
They tried to tell you that you were insane
making it up, all in your head, something’s wrong with that
crazy lady who pounds her fluttering chest in vain
tries to catch the eyes of doctors, with beseeching side-glance
SEE ME! HEAL ME! SAVE ME! WHAT IS WRONG?
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME? WHY DID I WAKE UP ONE DAY
SICK AND IT NEVER WENT AWAY?
And yes ! Something was wrong with me and still is
not my doing, not my causing, not my dreaming
despite you saying; You bothered us, when you called and were upset
no mercy, no mercy, no mercy, that is not love.
Helped me let go. Don’t hold on to negativity.
Oh doctor, get it outt!
and if you can’t, then give me the key, the saw, the pick
so I may survive myself and somehow continue on.
Am I to label myself chronically ill, or in recovery?
Surviving or dying or all of the above?
how do you define what doesn’t go and doesn’t kill?
Spending all your money on alternative treatments that
don’t even know what they pretend to cure
how do you describe one good day, followed by one in hell?
others won’t understand, because they are well
what I would give to return, to that safe water place
but even if I did, I would not be the same
you live years with a loaded gun to your head, everything changes.
I am not me anymore
I cannot see out of my left eye
I cannot lift heavy things, with my weak foreign arms
I can walk ten miles and not break a sweat despite this and be told
by friends and foes; OH YOU DON’T LOOK SICK
I am an apparent scar of contradictions and pain
I hurt every day, my stomach feels like
something is eating me from the inside out
it convulses and retorts and shouts
“you will never win, you will bathe in pain the rest of your life”
but I will still try
because I don’t know how to give in to enemies, I cannot see
and even as I cannot eat normal food
one day I am good, the next I am dying green
even as nausea, has become my constant companion
and bottles of pills and vitamins rattle in my pit
even as I fight to be gracious in the eye of the storm
and those I thought would stand by me, try to drown me instead
I know there is still a moment
I am well enough to remember who I am
never to find that peace of mind again
but maybe recover to another state of being.
I wake in the night covered in sweat and the disinterested doctor says
“get used to not sleeping, get used to all of this, it is what you must suffer and many others do”
as if it is normal to be like this, as if it is something we should not mention
I will never think it is normal to be hijacked!
I jog into the forest, because it reminds me I am still living, my feet still work
I fight with wilted hands, when they tell me there is no hope
that I should just consign my former glories to a picture album and put
my feet up for a fifty year occupation of sofas and couches and day time oblivion
because THE POWER OF ME can overcome the power of negativity and this I believe
as I see in the mirror a girl who doubts but stares back unblinking.
I have lost my will at times
I do not write as much, I have less energy
the last time I had a romantic dinner was in a dream and I
sleep with a heating pad on my stomach every night instead of a lover
but I still pay my own way and my own bills
I have a pride in pushing back against status quo
DEFYING the prescription of HOPELESSNESS.
they tell me go on disability. Just give up
I am not going anywhere, but to the finish line
by losing everything and having nothing but
the sheer will and dim light of my existence
I can do this without those I thought I had in my corner
because I am stronger than I realized
and this grieves me, as well as reassures me
but I come from a long line of stoic, strong women
and it seems sicker than I am, that we should hate each other
because life, surely we have found out, is fragile
and love is all that makes sense
but even without love I will continue and not
let the flame go out.
Sometimes I ask myself why?
why not just give in? Take the knife, swallow the pill
to oblivion or some non-sign-posted destination
I don’t have children to protect
it would be easy to slip out of this world and its sword edge of pain
but somehow I feel I should protect myself
maybe because others did not
maybe because you defend yourself in the end
when everything else is fallen and you are still
I am weak and tired and prematurely aged into
a hunched over version of myself
hair greying with shock, skin is sloughing off and my
body is tied to the rhythm of a sickness that purges and gluts
I was told this kind of disorder was permanent
but nothing I have found, is ever guaranteed
so I have chosen to ignore this and believe
we can all fight and overcome
even a death sentence
and when we know this
when we are strong for our weakness
realize our tears are just water and salt
burning the frustration of our visiting menace
then, we know nothing can hurt us, more than it already has
and we are free to dream
of a future without so much pain
where death stands to the side and lets us regain
some of our former dignity
for there is nothing dignified in sickness
and you don’t know me when you said I was glamorous
that is the last thing I am
I am beautiful for my courage
beautiful for my fear
beautiful for my survival
beautiful for my defeat
beautiful for my mercy of those who have no mercy for me.
And life is a wax and a wane
life is a torture and a friend
I am the totem of my own branding
I may live in a time where nobody else of my kith and kin remain
and once that would have filled me with pain
now I know you cannot rely upon
labels of safety
it is only by looking into the hearts of those
who stayed by your side when the storm hit
even if it is one, even if it is naught
you remain behind
the tempest cannot roar forever
eventually even agony ceases.
I wish now, to be everything you were not
to love others unconditionally
care for those who are in need
be the change I want to see
I want to find myself
at the end of all of this
I want to tell you, sickness
you do not win
you are just a miasma
I am a spirit with a soul
I will endure you
the me, of me, will remain
long after, to remember her worth.
Before this all began and through it, learned
only the fierce remain
only those willing to FEEL
and not those who run from feeling
with the ease of the damned.
Die is cast
thrown and tumbled
woman is born a girl
girl is born a woman
when she is young, learning to tie bows in sensible brown shoes
spit and shine, tighten pigtail, don’t get your bobby socks dirty
what does she know of her future?
when then, what hour marks, her turning, her awareness?
the tempora fragility of her succulent heart
will she be like her grandmother, a blubbering mess?
able to condone slithered evil in the hands of her husband?
look the other way, for her choices are meager
will she be like her mother, a loyal lover?
seeking a man willing to hold her closer to the sun
melt Icarus, melt, till you can stand the radiance no longer
but what of your child? The one you think is poison and deadly nightshade
what will she be like? In that wicked knowing?
when after-birth is dried and shell chewed to starlight
and she stands tall and unversed like a question mark
when she wants to scream out;
she’s the burnt slice of toast grown cold on countertop
everyone else is easy in the sun like white wheat and blackcurrant
they shine in their shingled merge
children thread their way through oboe chair-backs like grass snakes
the meadow flowers droop in her sweaty palm
she’d gift her indigo heart if it were taken or sensical
learning many years ago
don’t lend, what you can’t live without
she has enough air to fake it for fifteen minutes, then she’s out
caught in the idling headlamps of smoky cars
to escape those pitch eyes, drained of regard
the ease with which you are
the ease with which you are
in the loosening of your need
an affiliate of memory
put in glass jars along with sugar
watching you lean now, so evenly
toward tomorrow’s sun