Maternal instinct

Symphony

I am a mother

Though you are dead

I pretend otherwise

You feel me in that place that you are

And I sense you

In the small hands of my neighbor’s boy

In my urge to protect and let

Not one moment of harm befall

As if it were you, the ache inside

Sat next to me eating brunch

The waitress charmed by your precociousness

You don’t remind me a bit of myself

Just as my mother thought me a changeling

Who was the fair child she birthed? She wondered

Closing the door and walking into another universe

Away from the scold of maternity

It suited her to wear boob tubes and dance at 3am

Not wipe snot and vomit from the car seat.

OOO

And I see nothing of me in you

You eclipse a generation

Returning to be her and a little of your father

He had eyes that swallowed me whole

When I moved in his arms and invariably

He took and took and took

He also gave a little something of himself

Unwillingly in that hour before savagery

Even sadists have their moments of foreplay

It’s how they build to a crescendo

It’s how we fall for their slick words and

Hard falls

He filled me with you and underneath the green dress

I could see you swell and rise on the tide of my brine

Before the stairs before the marble

Cool on my burst cheek and the pattern of scarlet

He led me in oxblood to that single moment

We could have all ended there

With the moon ripe and redolent behind us

The smell of candle wax heavy on our hems.

OOO

There is no way to undo the circles

Looping through memory like planets fractured against starlight

There is only the clenched fist and a jump

Free wheeling in air, suspended

He watches with apocalypse eyes as I give birth

To the emptiness afterwards

Because his vision is winking out

Through time as we catapult and swing low

He tells me; you haven’t changed, your skin is still firm

And I splinter there in this path of thorns

The beating is joining bruises like daisy chains

You gave me life and then, bending close

Took it away with a snap of your callused fingers

We lie beneath the elm tree with our name carved

And you drink from my breast a milk of sorrow

I wanted you all to myself is your buttoned apology

It does not last .. it comes with the sharp pull on all fours

More hurt than can be described by sign and movement

Bearing a child and starting over bloodless

In one shattered moment

Leaning towards stairwell

Seeing you waiting

Below

Beckoning me

To fall

Afterbirth

With life

She is nude

Dearticulate

Her nipples graze the passage of her downfall

Blood is dry and hennaed between her thighs

Who stand witness

To aborted possibility cut short

Held glistening above her in crucifixed parody

She will never bear life

It is not her weft and the thick choker around her neck

Tightens as reminder

If she grows swollen it will be from loss not gain

No feeling of a child pushing its way out

Only the deadening cold taste of metal on her skin

A doctor’s “tut, tut” and rough handling, his voice a graze

Staining her inevitable socially affixed shame

She stares out of a small window

Paint pealing like tears on the empty sill

Where a bird sits sheltering from rain

She thinks of him cutting his way into her with flint eyes

Hands around her throat, pulling her apart

A flashlight douses darkness, shining on blood and her hand

Reaching out

She is empty now

Passion snuffed, an ember no longer close to surface

She is an arroyo dried and crusted over

She is a gourd grown without seed

Disappointment is her meal, she is a featherless bird on wire

Dried empty by sun and rinsed of music

Before this, her watermelon body swayed in water-sprinklers

Feasting on her abundance and possibility

All that would be, all that would be

Is laid waste

Tumbleweed and Joshua tree

Punishment and consequence

The rapist will return at night to his wife and

Three blonde children

She will recover from her tears and cuts

Even the shame of feeling his soil enveloping her

But she will never

Never

Forget what he took in miscarried act

What would happen if we swapped vision?

The fridgidity of growth or a certain constraint

Because if you split my casing I would possess less chance

My surround would envelop your shadows and night cross twice

For women have a shorter life and a longer one

Small boned with narrow shoulders and deep set eyes

Stretching barren like a long road through desert

If she could turn the knife around

Press it gently against his steady pulse

Cut out the evil as he removed her chance

To fill her arms

With life

How many women does it take?

It was raining the day the movers truck pulled up

piling furniture into the back, exposed to wet streets

everything dirty and unfamiliar

when you take your safety out of its box

when you unlatch your secrets

and expose the insides of a locket

sticky mouths seek to further that exposure

until nothing of your peace remains

but the belly of your secrets on display

as if you were sitting in class without underwear

as if the abuse etched in your soul were a t-shirt

as if his fingers weren’t in the dark but had been

dipped in luminescent paint and everywhere they went

left their grimy imprint / yet you think

this horror may have been the very best thing

as wretched as exposure may taste

at least it wouldn’t be a case of disbelief

how many women does it take?

for one person to not hesitate

how many must say;

he did this / that happened / we are not okay

because of this / why do I have to prove / with gore

and soiled soul / the truth / why isn’t it sufficient that I say

why why why

did he lay a hand on me?

how many women does it take?

a juror in the Bill Cosby case disclosed the reason for his guilty verdict;

I believed he was guilty because he said he had drugged girls

hearing it from the horses mouth got my vote

are we bidding on a horse? Did you check the inside of his mouth?

what of the SIXTY women who spoke?

their voices do not warrant proof?

were people just speaking words?

to deaf sign posts stating;

move on / get over it / don’t make a fuss / why should we believe you?

one person has lied before / you must be lying / that’s our automatic default

what hope then

for one girl?

one single soul

violated in the dark

of a house when all is moved out

and she is left inside a shell, within a shell

the echoes of trucks taking memories

somewhere else

how many women does it take?

to be heard.

Family photo

Draw a line in sand

She’s the border of one side and the other

At times unteathered

Without prediction

There’s a mystique to change if it’s bidden

And if not …

Galloping down flights of stairs in Wellington boots

Doors unlatched, bodies surge toward the wild

Leaving behind tables of cups and saucers

A black current stain on her dress, she didn’t

Care what others thought

Letting little boys see her private parts, beneath the weeping willow

Hers was the reaction

A swinging, uncovered, naked lightbulb

Denied its right to be switched off, to sleep without searching hand

She learned, the way of obedience, had a sharp taste in her throat

Better climb out, scale the walls, tear your hands than

Be mounted with his collection on a pinkering wall

To dessicate and lose color, for each pulse of his filthy yen

A gamble necessary to quit and never look back

Running on bare feet with feathers in her mouth

If she left the earth would she sink or float?

Going over the edge, empty-handed and savage

Yet .. children survive

Incomplete and clean of doubt

Their enemy known, in the family photo

One hand

s-l400

At fifteen a lewd boy, only 5’5 asked;

Will you pose for me with your legs spread?

She hadn’t shaved in three days, the stubble rubbed the backs of her calf where she pressed against enamel bath

A maelstrom in her eyes instead of pupils

He said; good, good, excellent, just like that … ba-aby

Now … Open them

And she remembered the first time she unfurled

Like those Chinese paper flowers that grow in water

A warm rose bud disturbed by prying fingers

She recalled the way unwanted thumb pealed her exposed

A fruit chewed on before ripening

The sting afterwards

Like she’d dried out all her moisture and hung like a salted fish to be slapped and dismissed

If she gave this boy, with sweat on his lip instead of hair, his hand down his pants yanking something terrible, a rolling storm, tattooing bruised landscape

His way would become her path

What would be next?

Can you scissor yourself over my friend and lower down like a stray bullet?

We’ll make money and you’ll have value

I’ll take care of you, afterward you can pretend it didn’t happen

We’ll smoke away the taste and I’ll move inside you until you release

Regret

It’s easier to prostitute yourself when nobody has your back and you didn’t learn how

To save yourself, to feel your worth

The sabotage within, so achingly familiar

If I do it’ll be like every other time I ruined myself over nothing, you say

Feeling deserving of the pain, shame is a funny fellow, makes you quite attached

When you’re adrift and running on empty

Who knew how easy it was to ruin a child?

Set in place, steps of greater sabotage

She could feel their sticky fingers on her thighs

The voices murmuring, it’s what you deserve

Sickness in a learned desire to be debased

On her knees being ridden like a horse, the riders

Grabbing her innocence, one handful of hair at a time

Til she was all used up and another empty set of eyes

Waiting for the next fix

She saw herself at thirty, dying in an empty room

And the boy who encouraged her now, high on himself and the vigor of youth

Didn’t know how easy it would be for her to tumble down the rabbit hole, he only thought of

Getting his cock sucked and how he could brag if she’d pose for his fantasies

She wasn’t his, she didn’t want to be the next hole, willingly bent over

She wasn’t a plastic doll or his fist, she didn’t exist for him to spank himself off

Her image was sacrosanct, her body inviolate

Her legs weren’t going to open and be his willing whore

Just because she felt empty inside and his thin flattery pretended to assuage, all the pain and losses

That wasn’t her path

He didn’t get to see her center or hold her up for inspection

The fine line between loss and lost is not so fine

She stood up for herself for the first time and learned

What we do, matters, impacts us, stays like a cancer

Life already hard, she needed all the breaks she could get

It began with leaving and not looking back

At the boy holding a camera in one hand

The fragile cast 

Tell me again

To be fearless

Tell me again

To depend on myself

I am yet a child

Still holding her toy by the ear

I am feeling you give me

The hard water slap of advice

Cold on my cheek, formerly warm.

You say

It’ll toughen me up

But I already know

It has wrought the reverse

I am not

A leathered creature of your creation

I am already 

Quite changed and mangled.

Whilst you 

Suffered and carved expressions from granite

Still you were told, you were a marvel

I was weighted down only with disapprobation

And your searing brand of tough love

Tore me further without support

Gave me greater fears, made me feel alone

In a room full of sound.

You cannot rob a child of their ego before it is formed

Nor nurture one empty handed and pickpocketed

You cannot protect a child by harm

Broken is broken.

We all require, when we start in this world

The unconditional faith of others

In a look, a knowledge, some portion of belief

In the validity of us

Lifted just enough to see over the edge.

Life already begs to steal the best 

We cannot survive by being cast into fire before we learn to walk

It doesn’t forge stronger bones

We live as ash, insubstantial invalids

Longing for the strength of kindness.

Before you break a child

Think of them twenty years from now

Grown on thin gruel and scraps

We who stand in the tempest 

May appear whole

But in our essence we lack

The varnish of other’s meant to grow us tall

It is in the stained radiance 

We find the courage to face the world

Bestowed on us by those meant to protect

The fragile cast of a child.

Empty space


Will I go back in time? 

Wet stockings, drying like chapped hands on weazy radiator

Your disapprobation, her disinterest, parents who

Took poorly to the role

And I, their disappointment

Not strictly failure

More a damp root, a smell of mold

Reminding them of empty spaces within themselves

I lay, hot brow, empty handed, slack mouthed, dearticulated by illness

Briefly relieved to be cut loose

And years passed overhead without sound

Tiny dancers on the globe turning time

Until they could not be certain, of ever having had

A child

Nor was I sure, I had been born

Such is the potency of separation

We can remove ourselves to point of extinction

And now I may return, the Archer retracing steps

With fine lines and trembling notion, mangled by distance

They cast every doubt in nets of resentment

No doubt it was a relief not to attempt a role

Illsuited to 

People without need

We forget

Going home is often empty

You got out

(Part of a new series of poems about people whom I have met, who profoundly moved me).

They said

no it’s not a person, it’s a trash bag, or wad of clothing

as I turned the car around

knowing it was a girl, curled into herself

it was for her, the end of a long night

for me, an early morning drive

into rising sun

indigo girl

her limbs thin enough, to resemble twigs

hair colored black, face still-water of a child

she waved us off

no, no, no, I’m fine here

in the fetal position, on the cement

lying by the side of road exhaust

as predator number 10, idles his car and asks

do you want me to take you home

baby?

I press myself to the window glass

no, don’t get in the car!

he looks angry when she says

I’m just taking a nap, goodnight

his lust drives off, leaving fuel staining like road kill

I wonder

what he would have done if

all 90 pounds of her, in tiny shorts and torn top

had accepted his bearly, concealed hunger

how many predators comb

early morning side walks, hoping

to pick up lost girls?

she’s got sense and she also, doesn’t know

but I do

I was her once

crawling out of an abandoned warehouse

knife wounds, waltzing on my throat

cold semen in my belly

clawmarks designating, my survival

bearly

the car that stopped then

a light in darkness

they took me away, from near death

when so easily

I could have been picked up, a second time

a third,

by hands with bad intention

when you are fallen

people often crowd in, to help you

fall again

like wolves who smell

the coming of blood and

vulnerabilities, we think we hide

I told her

don’t get into a car with a lone man, or group of men

they may not show their fangs but

you are a little piece of goodness

sometimes people who prowl, want to hurt

that shining within you

we drove

she was looking out the window

with her unslept eyes and the residue of last night

still high on her pain

and for the first time in my life

I no longer felt a victim

but one of the imaginary horses, I used to ride

speeding away from slick, sales-man, cough

of curb-side prowler

I wanted to make her better

but sometimes you can only

patch and release

to maybe nothing safer than hope

with a few words

wishing, that when she’s sober

waking without assault

she remembers

you were her once

and you got out

 

Uninterrupted innocence

Kids Jumping into Lake ChippewaPigeon-chested children with streaming noses

dive weightless into still water

breaking circles into smaller circles, rebounding against

sunlight

their laughter feels like a cold hand around my neck

as I imagine their futures

the girl with the black hair, she’ll be raped by her uncle

her mother will tell her, she is a dirty little liar

she will start taking pills at ten and graduate to heroin

when the school counselor asks her, where it all went wrong

she will think of the sunlight through trees

elm, willow, plain oak and cypress

the sound of her unmolested body, falling into water

as if baptized in reverse

the turn of her mother’s neck, in denial

her thick coral lips, mouthing betrayal

my brother would not do that

her own diminishing and the feeling

of wet, cold, bathing suit

sticking

cloying

admonishing

and she will not know, how to verbalize

that separation of self or why

it seemed permissible to sell her body for drugs

let men cut her up, into shards of her former wholeness

like fast food tastes bad

once it has been opened

she does not know, how it stopped mattering

if she protected, those broken walls within her

they were already torn down

that’s what she’d say, if she hadn’t

consumed her tongue and turned it hard

like a cliffs edge seems strong but crumbles

and the counselor, sighs and shakes her head

going home, only to wonder what more

she could do, to reach lost children

and the black-haired girl, gets her fix and slips

once more beneath glassy-eyed waves

this time, she can see herself

her blanched face, her loose fingers empty

letting go of all pain and slipping

like worry beads

deeper and deeper

and if I could, I would

walk backward in time

pluck her drenched and empty

fill her with sunlight and sound

reverberating like a crack in the world

opens and reveals a new passageway

she would come with me into the forest

her younger self remaining

jumping from the jetty with her friends

caught in elasticized moments

too free to escape the laughter

of uninterrupted innocence

Equality

The day I came out … all my girlfriends took one step apart

it can’t be they collectively agreed

she’s too pretty, she’s too feminine, she’s not a dyke she’s one of us

didn’t she enjoy sex with that boy in the garden? you know that party the one where

they turned the lights on and saw them straddled in tall grass?

What happened? Did you get raped? Was it because you grew up without a mom?

What happened? Did you get bewitched? Is she a sorceress? A genie? A devil?

Soon after the invites to go out on the girls-nights

dwindled

the newly minted lesbian sat alone with her shadows and her eye make up

growing stale in their plastic boxes

virile boys wondered why they hadn’t kept her straight

cleavage girls wondered if she had looked at them in the shower the wrong way

why didn’t you try it on with me? her bi-curious mates inquired, offended

as if loving a girl was loving the entirety of the species and jumping

from trees on the first female she sees, du rigor

sparkly gay boys annoyed her with their primping and their bitching

clique gay girls alienated her with their cold eyes and their own brand of judgement

you can’t be one of us you’re too long-haired, too shiny, too voluminous

they played pool and ground the chalk into the cue with the ire of exclusive groups

who don’t want those ill-fitting and new

soon she began smoking things in glass tubes because

only the druggies the desperate and the dead would let

her be

and on occasion when she was really crushed into ice and fire she’d try to cure herself

with someone unknown and faceless, grinding down with fervor and lust

neither of which she ever felt

like a poison the awakening was not Kate Chopin but

a black box with no lock and no key and still no way out

her family said …  well we always knew you were obtuse

liked to stand out, be different, not fit in, it started with

left-handedness in the cot

we just hope you won’t try to give us grandchildren

think of the shame, think of their difficult lives and step away

she didn’t even have love so how was she going to fill her womb?

at a club a gay man pushed her against a greasy wall and said

there’s something molten about you girl, you’re not gay you’re a hot bitch

and his erection pressed into her dress like a knife

you’re not supposed to want me, she whispered as he pushed harder

you like boys not girls

boys will like anything given a chance, he replied, staining her with ammonia and denial

walking home one night a homeless man grabs her from the bushes

holding a blade to her neck he tries to impregnate her

she thinks

careful what you wish for

as the slice of him burns her empty

the officer at the hospital while they gather the rape kit

all the swabs like brushes with unwilling paint

told her; try wearing pants not skirts

you’re too beautiful it is like a flower

the bees will come if you let them

and she wondered, how is walking down the street permission?

well it’s your life style you see, it causes problems

how would anyone choose a life style of alienation?

you’re good-looking enough to get a lawyer, he winks

before leaving her naked beneath paper gown

blood on her thighs, horror in her throat

to consider and condemn

herself

this is the life line of a girl who wasn’t linear

or bold or normal

or able to run with the swarm

she almost

tried to set herself on fire

to become one of those paper lanterns

lifting off the water into inky night

there were no hands to press her back to earth

they had been crossed and turned away

she didn’t fit into what they expected

what they needed her to be

were it not for you

with your wings and your fearlessness

on the day you told her

it’s okay not to be a stereotype

not every heterosexual woman will treat you like

you’re going to molest her

nor every straight man try to

put his hands beneath your panties

not every gay woman will

scorn your existence and push you to the corner

nor every queer boy loathe you

for being prettier than he

there are among us you said

people without definition or binary

who exist on the periphery of distinction

and we

will not

let you down

she wished she could tell

the pretty girl she tried to befriend who

always treated her different because she thought

you want me don’t you? you desperate lesbian

if you think you are free of bias and you believe yourself unjudging

stop and think about what you do unconsciously

with every favor to others over me, reminding

I have less worth

that is what happens without words without governance

the mistreatment almost invisible

like a paper cut

hurting more than it should

for the side-ways slice of discrimination is

often deeply sewn

wake up

wake up

she could be

your daughter

your best friend

careful how you step on this earth

without much you can

crush the fragile who only need

your equality