Only child

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I’m sitting in a linoleum room with ghosts, specters and occasional stranger

a girl with long legs like a foal, is pulling elastic pink lines of gum from her full mouth

and snapping them back, loudly

I wonder if I have ever sat so evenly in a chair, if I ever had peach hair, light on my skin like that

it reminds me of my friend who competed in gymkhanas, we made up our own horses, hers was called Mars and mine, BeTwix and we ran

so fast our hearts thundered up her grandmother’s hill in the La Roque-Gageac

her legs were like those of a foal,  even at eleven, the waiters watched her with wet lips

I think of The Object Of Beauty, how Liv Tyler gleamed, coming out of the oval swimming pool

What men must think when underage girls begin to fruit.

My ghosts routinely tell me, I am without worth, they remind me if I had anything worth having

my mother wouldn’t be absent

a life time of inadequacy, wouldn’t be my legacy

I disappoint myself, not just the ghosts, sometimes I think

I don’t belong in this American world, where women are proud to work sixty hour weeks and go the gym at 9pm

still feeling they haven’t worked hard enough.

I think I am forever running in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine, with my imaginary horse

watching a girl turn into a woman, aware of too much even then, and not enough

the specters mock my lack of confidence, whispering in my detached earlobe

nobody likes a wuss, confidence is the American calling card, haven’t you noticed?

Even silly people and indifferent people get somewhere, if they believe in their

silly people and indifferent selves. And brilliant people, who doubt, will fester

like a ring someone lost in a river, glitters too deeply for marbled birds to

pluck it out and restore to light.

I lost a ring once, you’d given it to me when we were 14 and I didn’t have coltish legs

or peach fuss on my skin, but rather, the strong bones of a kid who drank milk with her cereal and got a stomach ache

reading Asterix at the pine breakfast table, with her stuffed toys.

I can still hear the plastic clock and hum of the washing machine

a warm symphony of my childhood, as I delayed leaving for school

and the inevitable crush of humanity, I had long decided was not for me

in fact, my trajectory was so far from that world of push and pull

competition and attention, fan fare and nose-pick small talk

I inhabited the after school hours like an addict of one

rejoicing in the quiet and empty spaces where

my mind could roam and gallop

sometimes I would sit on the roof tops of outdoor storage buidings

eating my soggy paper bag of sweets, stuck together from being

crunched in my pocket, head stuck in a book about

beautiful places with kind people and fantastic things

wild roses growing like thoughts from arching cracks

in concrete, their soft heads and sharp thorns

not the decapitated baby bird, I buried beneath the acorn tree

its silvered blind eyes, swollen and bulging

wings pressed like cries of regret for having never spread

in flight

something horrifying in everywhere you looked

like the terror you feel when you realize you are truly alone.

That kitchen clock would change day and month

but never really the precision of its emptiness

I learned it is better, to rely upon fantasy and avoidance

than the pinch and grope of society.

Often, a stranger would ask

why are you playing outside so late?

I would run away into the eclipsing shadows

behind the corrugated iron fences that separated

the good neighborhood from the skeletons

those bombed, bleached, bones of former homes

where a kid of twenty years ago had lain

watching paper airplanes cycle

above their head, clutching something with glass eyes

and faux fur, as I still did

funny, to find some comfort in the inanimate manufacture

of nature

my toys looked at me in the darkness and spoke

words of love, I needed to consume

their salty fur held

the cups of my early disenchantment

when teachers commented on my red eyes

I said; hay-fever and they believed me

because I wore a dragon tail

this was surely an adjusted child

with avid imagination

cantering alongside her friend

with the honey colored hair and long bare arms

absorbing sun like a shining fruit

I knew then how different I was

how quiet pain, how loud silence

my mother always looked so beautiful in

floral dresses with her trim ankles and long neck

I, the stranger behind her

admiring and shameful in her artlessness.

it was among the lost in forest, I claimed my place

when first love failed, when promises became

paper envelopes containing no letter

dishing out school diner and homework

leaving my scuffed shoes at the door

I climb

into the ivy

away from the party

a reflection I see of myself

gathering stillness like a blanket

she is fetching her best smile

for the emptiness of years

staring into emulous clouds, watching

for signs and miracles and unspent words

the sound of others laughter

rinsing through tall green shadows

like echoes of

someone else’s life

 

 

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.

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

Want & Ritual

Helmut-SPREAD-6FI grew up fetishizing

the nubile antonyms of beauty

Helmut Newton’s exploitation

penis behind camera stroking

sloe-eyed girls with tired mouths

smoking yellow papered Gauloises

nipples grazing peach crinoline

men’s eyes like dry stones, seeking squeezing

I grew up thinking

contortion and bondage was

an art form not

excuse for masochism

as unsupervised child, I’d look through

graphic design manuals

that inexplicably had vulvas and

perky breasts

to illustrate Pantone

it was after all

the seventies

what did I know? Except

women on beaches without tops

giving me francs for not spilling their dirty martini’s

Mon sucre d’orge, sois gentil, va me chercher mes cigarettes

always gentleman watching

the rise and fall of female throats

nicotine mouths, stained vermillion

long tan legs swept beneath chiffon

men taking them to hotel rooms

children

smoking the leftovers whilst adults

fucked behind closed doors

wondering

when I grow up

how can I lie beneath

a girl whose sweat glistens

like marzipan

and if she should

sip on me I think I’d scream

all my silver bracelets falling off

like metal flowers on hotel carpet

after all

life is a film

where we tie ourselves up

with want and ritual

The deepest cut

an-apple-rotten-on-the-inside

It doesn’t take much to knock a bruised fruit to the floor

watch it split apart like rotted glass, shards of damp skin in slow motion

try as I might, I AM that bruised fruit

try as I might, I cannot seem to recover myself back to where

once took for granted, the feeling of wellness

it doesn’t help when someone you loved abandons you

in the middle of your darkest hour

things like that aren’t supposed to happen

people who swear allegiance and loyalty aren’t meant to

be the ones leaving your side

such is the hour and fickle fan of illnesses devour

at least I know I’d never treat someone, that poorly

despite this and because of it, healing is slower

though I suspect anything less than fire would be

I didn’t know these things beforehand

the un-annointed do not possess future perspective

to see how illness strips your childish faith, cleaves you

bare and gasping

where family didn’t need to see me, even as I spent weeks in hospitals

it cut me to the quick, but it wasn’t the first or the last

maybe preparing the groundwork for your deepest cut

they say you get used to it in time

I never have

just as I never have truly understood the cruelty within some, who profess so hard to love

now, I am a changed person

I cannot make plans like I used to, thwarted by my body, haunted by ghosts

my illness is like a cobra, she stays quietly in the leaves

rearing up when I least expect or when I want most to escape

her possession of me, the way she knows how to tickle fear

with just enough venom until I am on my knees

I am sure some would say, this is therefore; psychosomatic

that it what they tell all women of hysterical turn

I saw in your eyes when I told the horror; your own disbelief

until doctors produced the proof, you still wondered

it became apparent to me, just like with sexual assault

being believed is paramount to recovery

alongside having faith in ourselves

I did not do a good job of the latter

finding myself more alone than when I started

and I thought I started pretty alone

I know I am a survivor and I was not destroyed

yet it feels like I was

when I look inside myself and find

so little left, a house without windows

it was only because of you, I kept trying

I told you that, I said, you were holding me up

when you let go

I fell to a place I did not know existed

I wanted to ask; Couldn’t you have just waited

long enough to see me through the worst?

but you wait for nothing except your own need

I had to find a way to stand even as everything crumbled around me

which is the biggest test I ever had and I failed it

I failed it again and again

walking through the lullaby of desiring to die for so many reasons

not least, the never-ending dance with sickness and pain

but somehow I did not die, I turned instead to stone

when people say I am strong now and ask; How did you get through it?

I don’t tell them; I am not through it

I still lurch and shake in the throes of unnamed demons and at night

I feel like an arythmic god has taken me and is spinning me

on high-speed like all my parts are made of jello

I want to ask that god; what is it you are trying to shake loose?

surely you know by now there is no more fruit left

not even the rotten kind

that fell and split and sunk into earth, a long, long time ago

it is only me remaining now; leafless, without sturdy branches

I cannot rely upon myself, I cannot rely upon promises

no longer a young, untouched tree with green shoots

I am damaged, broken and hobbled, by this specter and the unknown

as much as by those I knew and trusted

asking why to the imploring void; why are we stricken down?

to what do I owe my continuing? Even as it is, insubstantial

can they see in my eyes, when I pretend, I am trying not to gag?

my appetite spirited away by the scourge and never returned

I would die of hunger and not know it

were it not for some strange determination

I don’t know where that comes from

but as I stand, it must be a place within me

does not give up, as she did not, all those years ago when

the flames licked the top of my house and burned, everything I knew to cinder

I am not like the rest of the world; stronger for my poison

nor am I able to disguise my scars

if I were asked what recommended me; I could not answer

I would probably open my mouth and howl

because you can reinvent yourself, a million times it seems

I am just one incarnation, coming apart at badly mended edges

you, who are able to vault life in gentle sprint, must mock

I am after all, just a fallen fruit, lasting as long as she can

in imperfect, bruised skin

You are not a girl anymore

Girl you are not a girl anymore

you are a woman

woman you are reviled and judged

for being a woman

when you were a girl it was suffice to

have a nice pair of legs and a pretty mouth

do you recall how often you were asked to ‘cheer up and smile love’

when all you were doing was trying to grow-up and be serious?

how men would do your bidding because of your WonderBra and not the sense of your words

now you are a woman

you will inherit

inequality

double-standards

and not be able to find clothes that feel right in stores not meant for your body

because nothing is going to come easy anymore and still

as you sit there in your curves and your burgeoning skin

feeling the surround of yourself lapping at the corners

you will inherit also

the voice of your round bellied ancestors

who have come ringing through time and again

been judged, poked, prodded or worse, flat out ignored

seen how silver haired men get all the fuss like carefully licked jewels

whilst a woman of substance is

lost lost lost

behind the mad din and snuff of youth

for youth it seems needs a distinguished father of any age

but does not require

a mother

a grandmother

a female sage

for women are judged upon their reproductive abilities and

the years they have lived beneath the moon listening to the shore

if too few, they are deemed unintelligent

too many and nobody wants to hear

for women are judged upon

scales created long before

an even playing field was won

if it has, if it has yet

for women it is easier to become lost after the lights have grown less hot

held to a higher standard than the eternal covet of men

who are picked up and dusted off by many worshipful female hands

too eager to say ‘there, there, I will help you, poor thing’

who shall help then, the woman?

Not her own kind, surely, nor men who adore only youngest vintage

Who shall see her? When she is grown and perhaps does not accept her allotted place

or wish to remain invisible or grow old with pressurized grace

who shall listen when she wants to be heard at any age?

or the desires of her are beyond the sanctioned pail

or her damp passion which does not flip and flop and require Viagra

a woman if she is loved

is ten-fold her maiden self

for the wefts and the welts are earned and learned and now they represent

a splendid coat of multicolor

she wears with pride and sometimes regret

but more often silver wisdom and the softening yet

of her edges into rounded corners and eventually

a supple circle come full

the world may dominate her discourse

the youth may clamor for their right to change the channel

she may slip quietly through the bridled noise

with strong thick womanly thighs

and as men chase their tail and young women cast a gaze that seems to say

who the HELL do you think you are, old lady?

woman, you do not bat your eyes or rise to those absurdities left behind

for she is the wake of day and dusted sleep of night

cradling the future in her all-mighty grip

she learns from being kicked

to stand she must let go of the girl within and be

a woman of our time

casting her pearly net wide as she

swallows the sea and sighs

letting the tide tumble out with her exhaled breath

aaahhh yes

aaahhh yes

Too many

What do father’s say

To their knock-knee daughters

Not able to sit on their lap and learn to shave

Their distant allegory

A return of themselves in female form

What would they?

A daughter born

Looks up at he who holds the world

Why do men let me drown Daddy?

Her eyes speak of hurt and scorn

Her belly wasted and torn

Why do they tell me I am no good for?

He who reaches

Into ether

Does not know the words for his daughter’s heart

He wants to break the necks of any who hurt her

But there are just

Too many