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

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Fondle

Chaplin_The_Kid_editThey said she was uncool

they laughed at her pathetic attempt

to fit in to the A-Crowd and be

whatever cool intended

she was not able to tan with

baby oil and lemon

therefore didn’t look good in yellow

or the teeny tiny jock shorts

all the girls with the floppy hair

and shiny legs knew

if you wanted to be an A-Lister

better get bronze and angular

she had the legs of a cross-legged child

with fat bits that poked through

her back wasn’t too straight from hunching

over the tv with bowl of Coco Puffs

they said she was uncool

because she couldn’t spell and didn’t know how

to french kiss or accept blow backs

of weak marijuana in local park

she didn’t stand as tall and couldn’t climb up

to fondle faceless boys who shriveled afterward

she wasn’t full chested, more of an empty shirt

what’s the point? one asked, just give me a hand job

and she didn’t know it took so much momentum

of her thin unused wrist

so she had to prop it up with the other hand

and everyone took the piss

you can’t even wank a boy without losing steam

how are you going to ride him?

she didn’t want to ride a boy, or even a horse

she didn’t need to be cool if it meant spitting out semen afterwards

her freckles and her pasty face, weren’t the sum total of her soul

if it’s uncool to be an outsider, she thought

I’ll make it into an art-form

so she wore purple when the IT color was red

flattened her chest instead of wearing WonderBra

liked polka dot panties over thong

didn’t touch cold-sore boys, even with gloves on

watched the girls from the A-List grow fatigued

of sore jaws and empty hearts and stained skirts

whilst she painted and danced and cycled and swam

climbed trees, shot arrows, read on roof tops, ate bags of blue gumballs

her teeth were not as white as those with lithe brown thighs

her sneakers did not have the right logo

she wore thrift store sweaters and Hello Kitty socks

they said she was uncool

for not knowing how to pleasure and perform

she told her dolls and her bears

it meant she got another summer without having to worry

about being pinched and poked by thirsty boys

with Ralph Lauren t-shirts and Converse All Stars

taunted by girls with Abercrombie skirts and Victoria’s Secret push-up

comparing cleavage and score cards

what a relief to be uncool

her name didn’t begin with A

it began with C and she preferred hanging upside down

from the jungle jim

watching the world fool

young girls

 

 

Ode to absentia

I have written enough about you to fill a slim volume

or maybe two ships

set sail for one of the countries you visit

sending me letters in the day, with marks and fingerprints from all around the world

they would smell

like you, even as that was impossible

and I prepared, as nobody ever can

for the day I would lose you

why not, you ask, appreciate the now, when you are here on earth?

I have, though, we have never spent our lives together or even entwined

I have been saying goodbye all these years

yet it will not be sufficient, it could never be enough

you are more of me, than myself

and I feel you inside even though you are not here now, and gone in the future

loving you has felt like continual loss and little gain

yet I do, more than anything else, for you are that kite, unmoored itself and got away

the thought that comes creeping up as you laugh, as if I had a twin, and yes, she was the one who grew in courage, living full in ways I knew only from books

you have the lifeline of twenty palms and though you could not be a mother, you have always inspired me, like the character from a favorite story

reaching near and never touching, someone marvelous and unable to approach

I live sometimes with my eyes seeing through yours

the waves of your life nearing but never reaching, shore

at some point there will be a day when you are not simply absent and not around the corner

but further then, impossible to mend, hands of time, spent longing

it may be my song to want and not receive, the beauty that is you, and your life as it cleaves

further away, until from a great distance I cannot distinquish, squinting until my eyes hurt and run

I would if I could, but I never have, and I won’t

it is the theatre of our lives to play out

my role is that of thirsty

yours to make ordinary seem

extrodinary

you are the giver of dreams

I shall always wish

for one more day where I see

your figure coming closer through the dusk

perhaps to stay a while, even if we do not touch

I long, in layers, not to lose, what I have, not.

Full circle

Princess

My neighbors and I played down by the two deep ponds, circled by hedges

warnings unheeded, crashing through nettles into leach infested waters

our Gallic faces screaming in delight at frog spawn and plump lily pads

one sister, a redhead with gap-tooth grin, the other darker, like late season honey

who knew then? Among the crags of the Pyrénées-Orientales, with their Catalan tongues

we’d split and divide like wheat, losing touch, floundering each, to find our way

as kids, our favorite game was building tepees, wearing feathered headdresses

many years later, sitting in a park in Ontario, I met an Ojibwe mistreated by the state

we sat beneath banners and he told me his Algonquian speaking father was full blood

how his people killed their Inuit neighbors and lost their totem in broken alliances

from this he said, they learned, honesty is the only worth a man possesses

his mother was a French migrant, from Perpignan, on the Spanish border

the very same town I first learned to dance, to make it rain, or so I pretended

I wondered, if somehow fate had flung herself in strange arrowed pathways

all leading back to tepees and kind men, who felt mercy without recompense

since I left and became an immigrant, the gentlest souls I have met, carried

Native American blood in their full cheeks and mercy in their hearts

reminding me of daubing my own face with white stripes and how

we never had cowboys or guns in our games, just long striped feathers

and the goodness of children.

 

(For B, Mark, Jean, Crystal, Lane & Jack, who carry the blood and make it count).

 

The silent strength

Take out the trash

And as you bend to pick up stray leaves

You see him standing beneath his grief

He wears it heavy like winter wool, boiled in tears

As a man, he doesn’t have the ways of expressing

All those pent up cries

For so long, he was his only resource

Clamboring into himself even further

A boy within a man, hand over mouth

His outward smile is tinged with sadness

Nobody sees because people want to believe

In smiles more than tears

Except me

I have nothing much of myself to recommend

I couldn’t compete, I couldn’t pretend

The square jawed boys at school

Saw through me, reaching for the swan necked girls

Who purred and swam in batted eyelash lakes

And like this man, I grew up shaping myself coarsely

Sometimes doing nothing more than observing

The way we treat others less fortunate

And I came to recognize pain

As if it painted a sign or put up lights

They say comedians are often depressed

Behind the mask, underneath their wax paint

I only know I see, as he bends to loosen the hose and

Water plumes into a cloudless sky

Giving himself permission to cry behind the spray

He hugs himself with cold arms and I watch

The boy who repeated this action until

He could stand without falling

His strength is greater for his fragility

I want

To save his heart

From the cruel ways of those who say they love us

Those, they hurt the most

As if love were a weapon to be used when you get closer

Everything is upside down and the wrong way round

The grey eyed man says

I have to act the opposite of who I am

Just to tred, the thinnest bridge

I am holding empty days in my hand

And husks of dreams beneath my chest

His face mimics the pain beneath his skin

But he trembled, long enough to see

The stricken moment, like passing ghost

The man he tried to be, the loss of certitude

I told him, hope was the only way

And even

When we believe we can take no more

And even, as our last support breaks and crumbles

Abandoning us in our hour of need

When we think we have lost everything and everyone

Staring at the edge wishing we could jump

Then the wind chime is caught by stray breeze

Faraway birds call into the trees

Then the mercy of a stranger leaves

The bearest memory that once

Before grief got in her punches

Reminder of something precious

Long ago when we had faith in ourselves

The little boy he was

Standing staring at the same sorrow

Decided it wouldn’t be the direction for him

Taking everything he had, he set out

To live inspite of it all

And he did

Now with bowed head he reminds me

Of a fallen angel, wondering how

To continue to fly or purchase peace

And I touch his shoulder

When I mean to reach inside

Warm his soul and keep alive

The silent strength behind his eyes

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.

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