I AM A TOTEM OF MY OWN BRANDING

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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

chaos

the sun will come in and make of my peace

madness.

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

I learned

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

somehow, standing.

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

anything

even a death sentence

even betrayal

even silence

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.

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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;

whydontyoufeellikeido?

whydontyouwanttoscreamwheneveryoneelseislaughing?

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

no destination

just drive

far

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

For my first friend in America

Your hand covers mine

we clasp for the camera and smile a 100 watt smile

The American Way

I have learned

how to park a truck

that pale legs are not

as anathema in Texas as in Cannes

I understand, ordering drinks you size up

trying clothes, you size down

topsy-turvy world for a foreigner

lost in her baggage claim.

You made me feel

easy and comfortable like an adirondack chair

smooth wood, deep grain, eccentric shape

this became my town and in so many ways

it was thanks to you taking the time

to show me the way to fit in

the candles dim in the windows of the bar

as if they know you are now gone

where the bird died and we buried it

flowers grow up and a little crepe myrtle

as if forever our steps, will be marked here

mountain laurel blooms wildly

across splayed streets replete with thin cats

seeking their breakfast at Taco huts, the color of watermelon

where I ate among the gladioli without fear.

In the beginning

you were like Tiger Balm

rubbed over my fear, I was no longer shivering

could make my way through the throng

as good as anyone

your watchful eyes on my narrow back

seeing how I did, urging me onward

how will I continue with you gone?

Family, you said, comes from the heart

you may find someone you love in the strangest places

I found you in a Chinese buffet eating Won Tong soup

in my skinny jeans and piss and vinegar

you asked me if I used to be a dancer

I said yes, and now I unravel for a living

you took under your wing, that juniper girl who

didn’t know how to fit in to her new clothes

taught her the measure of her adopted land

like the time we planted trees and you warned

never forget to be merciful, to those less fortunate

the sky was pure blue that day, on the wind

the smell of honeysuckle and river lily

white cranes flew languidly overhead

we shared Limeade and Tortas, our feet dipping in hot puddles

I recall

the first time you were sick

I said, you reminded me of my grandmother

and you frowned; I’m not old enough!

But what I meant was

she had a strength, nobody else could see

every time I went to school she’d wait

in her high-waisted pants of crepe or wool

tight curled hair, wearing oversized sunglasses

below the stairs, nodding with a wink

mouthing the words; You got this

and I’d go into my classroom with a 100 watt smile

not fearful anymore

nobody saw that side of her, just as

people dismissed you as a Jesus Freak

seeing past the strength of your resolve

to live with love

I admire those; who have mercy and compassion

I look to those; who are loyal and unafraid to love

it is the weave of this girl, to follow in those footsteps

bring kindness, do good, lend yourself to gentleness

when I grew sick I saw, how many live with

anger and resentment, undoing their humanity

until they are unrecognizable and only breathe

the exhaust of their bitterness.

To the rose

opening this day

after your passing

I say, O glory, O beauty

live in the sun

as radiant and perfect as anything I have known

and I hear your voice, see your face nodding

you got this

I want to run backward and say

please don’t leave me, don’t go

but I know you have to

and I have to go on

alone but holding your wisdom

your mercy

in those lessons you left

imprinted upon my heart.

Moonshine

(inspired by finding an old photograph of a fancy-dress party I attended at University that I hadn’t seen in years)

One of them is me

but which holds the key? Later perhaps we

shall know our fruiting journey through

maze of youth

and slow pull of stocking

for kind of touch best found

in satiny afternoon glow

outside I hear my dim-eyed neighbor

mowing lawns until he aches silver

because his wife has turned away

nobody touches him anymore with

the dreams of yesteryear

so we sprint toward each

invisible finish line

with emptiness in our hearts

filled with busy distraction

nothing lasting, nothing to

endure or sate cold claim

of climbing into bed

unwanted or alone

the feel of darkness, our shroud

from terrible disappointment

and then

then I had it all and didn’t know

standing on the precipice

we laughed at our indomitable

facility to thrive

not yet diseased

not yet rawboned with stretch marks

nipping their silver lines like unwanted lace

or sagging pieces shaking to no

good beat

not yet diminished on shallow waxen wheel

of male adoration

though for me this was never

a piece I wished to carve for myself

it was the love of a woman I craved

like first drink from fountain

on a hot day with no clouds in sight

languorously we exult

in

crocheted certainty, time will stand still

make for ourselves exceptions and grand entrance

the labor of hope so easy and lubricated

then

we’ll never be shaken off

like a dull wet thing

nor left to gather dust

as something once favored

we are surely, gleaming warm heads

of our own personal state

if I could have heard the warning

should I have been able

to listen?

likely not for

day is long and hour far

we take lovers for bread and jam

hate yet a curiosity

our parents live robust

we can yet still, the freedom to

go home

there are structures protecting

the hollow timber of our hearts

from these days what we can we learn?

as growing up and away

truth becomes stretched and gray

friends falling away

the bounty of never-never coming to claim

her inevitable duality

delight in youth, for contrast is cruel

all should have its value

but we are flippant with our boon

and when the cold night comes

we usher ourselves to greater darkness

in the strangeness of change

not able to see what is portent

nor later

the freedom

released from expectation

to unfold our wings

take flight

no more a shining thing

but something effervescent

and filled with

light

casting its thrall

as long ago, diving for pearls

we claimed the moon

Absolution

tumblr_n7uflxumP11qanheao1_1280I don’t know if there’s hope

When friend turns foe

I don’t know

Where in separation

Yoke and embryo

Glistening placenta gouache

The painter may

Render this potential life

Legacy of strife

In verdant whisker

I could have been born

Elsewhere

Or not

Chemistry

Cellular change

Alchemists with tears as

Coat of arms

We consume tangerines

The smell of orange rind

And cloves

Seasonal with moth holes

Moses climbs from his wicker man

Escaping the fire

And disbelieved share

Their bronze debacle

Lend me the mahogany deep of your voice

Bringing me back

From kimono exile

Remember

I have no power

But the truth

Of nude vanquish

Attributed to

Low lamps, proffered incense

Summoning believers

In thin macintosh bones

We are rubric

To gardens

In the rain

Bird baths for those

Needful of absolution

Behind your eyes

DSJPQ56W0AEq2Dl.jpg largeWhen I stopped dancing full-time and entered delayed puberty

my breasts swelled like a lily in a pond

at first it was kinda cool getting attention from boys

then I hated how they jutted out and called ahead

like car headlights

slowly tracking, flashing, blinding

in those days of Flashdance and Fame

the three L’s; leggings, leg warmers, leotards

loving in the afternoon, running to studio

dancing with the smell of sex on my stomach

other girls ate salad and cardboard

threw up in the bathrooms

bound their breasts with cloth

I admired their long necks and sinewy thighs

the tightness of their waists and flat chests

my own puberty felt like something out of control

foreign and unwanted to me

I wanted the lean girl of childhood back

the one who climbed trees with one hand

hung upside down

eating apples

there was too much

attached to owning breasts and thighs

even his circle of me dimmed

looking at some of my friends

the ones with slimmer hips and shoulders

still in their girl-doll-bodies

I with my woman seeping out

became a thing of disgust, or so I thought

when I carried his child, my breasts grew even more

wetting the front of my nightshirt with wasteful milk

his eyes took in the sum of me and disgusted

he looked away

always preferring me hairless and skinny

like a girl not a woman

no make-up, wearing little thin things

someone he could control

so I had a sickness in myself

of warped images, desire and lost babies

starving myself beyond the pale

it wasn’t hard, I had little to lose

soon I ran for buses on the breath of feathers

circling my waist he’d say

you remind me of Audrey Hepburn

being tiny, I decided it had been a dream

no child, no loss, no lack of desire

he sexed me every night until sate

leaving bruises on my legs and arms like

vampire bites

but always turning his head away

like he was thinking of someone else

when he left me for that girl

who was dark-skinned and voluptuous and healthy

I realized being a little girl didn’t keep me safe at all

after that I never gave myself away

to people with eyes that looked straight through me

or hands that grabbed to own

a piece of me or what I possessed

though I had no idea what

that was

lying by myself in a small room

smoking hashish in the dark listening to

Tunnel of Love on repeat

I tried to turn my heart to glass

only my body wanted to be awoken from her slumber

a virginal boy, with no grace and long hair

filled my nights and my bed for a time

I taught him how

to roll the perfect joint

and study, where time ended and pleasure began

once he asked

why do you bind your breasts every morning?

they are beautiful

I turned from him

my skin burning with secrets

and did not ever reply

for who can disclose the litany of pain?

as it lies

like a sleeping child

behind your eyes?

Those sounds made in silence

In the flat hand of glass

Reflects an outside world

Cold Winter sun calls through curtains

patient window pane lover

trees lose last of their leaves

surrendering to unclothed nakedness with the bravery of a wedding night

disiduous remain full, evoking woody balsam and night spore

surviving knife’s turn in weather

holding heat and color in humbled defeat of season

much like humanity

some can bearly stand the ravage

others seem to make a game of it

sustaining themselves on pride of survivorship

not long ago

I was a tree who lost her green

standing frail and nude

cold uneven feet on linoleum

my insides dissected by machines and tubes

the absurdity of being in pain and still

apologising to the technician

for my exposure, those things I had not adequately prepared

for who shaves their legs to ride in an ambulance?

or waxes bikini line in preparation for colonoscopy?

more men in my cavities than my entire sex life

humor in the macabre on the edge of the world

as all is falling around, the condemned laugh

I think of people fucking in hospitals and

it strikes me as the sanest response

take a stranger’s hand, strike your name on the dance card

feel the strong beat of their heart even as

their valium eyes tell you other stories

we escaped just, but we escaped

touch me where I was piecemeal

finger my edges with your need to validate

desire swells when we don’t die of our maladies

to feel once more, the warm assurance of another

weighing us back to earth

80 pounds, 90, 100, we climb through mist

to gain entrance

I sat in the coffee tinged dayroom

the same sun, the same season, a year ago

what a difference a year makes

then I was as light weight as a dry leaf

last fat pealing off me like a hot coat

nurses, seeing my bones, were mothering to me

they did not know how much that meant

because I have honed the art

of never showing my true feelings

I could be smiling as I wept inside

and you would only remark, how bright your eyes

illuminate the darkness, my love, my love, my love

which is why I need to dance

it is the only time, I am myself

aside when sexing the cherry and that I cannot speak of

for I hardly recall, what it feels like to be held

only the sheer joy of remembering touch

a hand reaching through blizzard

the nurse brought me breakfast

sat me in the iron wrought chair

in a soft voice asked me to try to eat

her caring eyes were my feast

it had been so long since anyone saw me

crumbling beneath my layers, sickness

devouring will

the illness brought me out of my exile

heart thundering

where you had placed your sharp arrows

all of you, who used me for target practice

did you think I hadn’t noticed?

I’ve been your punching bag longer than memory

it’s hard not to fight back, but I stand alone either course taken

so I packed my bags and sailed away

just to stop hurting, the ribbons of life lines

each year grief-stricken like those fish you got

in Christmas crackers, good Jews we weren’t

that curled on your outstretched palm

one direction meant fickle love, the other,

who knew? I was always left-handed

wherever you go, there you are

still injured, the pain lingering like unrepentant stain

a dying man sat down, began telling me his life

he said I was beautiful, did I want a date?

both of us in our backless gowns, how absurd

parody of finer times, when you took me in your arms

spun me around, bit my neck, caressing the

pulse

soon enough, early snow fell, sun still shone

I told myself you were waiting for me, when I got out

but you had lost your mind, many years ago

you didn’t mean any of it, those years didn’t exist

they were flakes of water turned to ice

deceptively beautiful

afterward, I drove over the speed limit, windows down

just to remind myself I was alive

but alive for what? To fall and empty myself in therapies chair

to have so much to say and nothing to share?

secrets in their eyes, glittering there

like drops of Winter, another year passing

how our roles change and still hurting

a nurse put her hand on my shoulder

don’t give up, she bent her lips to my cheek

kissed me like my mother did

once, when I was a good child

feeling in my belly, the sickness and defile

of many months lost and found

where are you now? In the woods?

as the sun sets and night falls

ushering creatures from their lairs

I walk beneath the moon and think

of how I am alone, wherever I am

giving up the part of my heart

who always hoped

I feel I have been awake a year

tossing and turning, reaching for

your touch like a thirsting pilgrim

lost in nightshade

you were never

there

only the moon and those sounds

made in silence

as we live and we age and soon

we return to earth

what we take with us

the memories of

wanting you like

flame burns wood

to create brightness

even as they both lived

one must consume other

in this mad

world