Below zero

Snow I have always

been thankful for your expunging

whiteout

how you take dirt

and suffocate it

beneath insistent layers

the wild and untame methods of your

settling, blown like befuddled

birds in all direction, swirling in

lost echo, falling eventually to

sugar-coat the dim world brighter

as pipes fail, their fragile egg shells

bloated with trapped water

a parallel I think

to our own shuttered lives

When I was a child I would

be told

do not go out in the snow for long

you will catch your death

and I hoped

very much

that were true

for to sleep

a red rose in bosom of white

I could fancy in my child’s mind

no greater perishment

though fancy and its

myriad ways of suggesting

death

grow less appealing

the older we get

Now I avoid slipping on ice

for fear of crushing my elbow into

shards like my father did

I see in the distance

my grandmother’s dog

he is trying to eat snow flakes

and puzzled when they melt

barks into whiskering storm

I think he speaks for us all

in this grand illusion

half wanting to be

taken off by encompassing whorls

carried to ice palace

where surely the meaning of

everything can be found

along with my mittens I lost

in tenth grade

stooping down to place

the cherry in

my snow robins

breast

The rhyme of girls who skin their knees

She always knew she was a girl

by the way older women treated her

their higher standards expected

than if she were a boy

for boys … could climb trees and expose their underwear

while she was scolded and told not to be ‘a little harlot’

boys came barreling in full of spunk and fury

exhibiting their mirth with muddy feet

to ladies who smiled indulgently and patted their

ruffled heads

glancing over at her, with disapproving eyes

and a tut of the chin which said; “I hope you are not

going to track that mud into the kitchen and if you do

be prepared to clean it up. What kind of girl climbs

trees and gets herself full of dirt?

The unspoken and the spoken

those days she sought sympathy when her heart

felt like bursting

responses varying from; “maybe you didn’t ‘try hard

enough, you should apply yourself next time” to “don’t

go on about your problems so much, we all have problems

you are not the only one!” While they fretted and discussed

the poor boy whose horrible girlfriend left him

how grief stricken he was afterward, they could do nothing

it was so hard to watch

not difficult at all to watch her fall

almost amusing

almost delightful

female expectations a bar far too high

even for a gymnast

whilst boys ran beneath it

in spastic freedom

from the quiet exceptionalism of their gender

through the eyes of a woman

she learned early on

to keep her thoughts and wishes to herself

for each vulnerability would be handled roughly

turned against her like a shard of glass

piercing deep

she learned, to do for herself as the boys

were fed, dressed, coveted, admired, flattered

and grew fat and indulgent on it

rather like farm yard pigs

she grew strong in that way pain lends

a thin weed

trying to survive by the side of a busy road

filled with fumes and cars belching their poison

yet she knew if she wanted to survive

she could not walk along that road

by herself, taking short cut

through fields, because that’s where

women were raped

among thorny bushes, hands reaching out

grasping for them, hungry and snarling

she was told it was her fault if she

succumbed and her fault if she died from

fighting them off and her fault if she was

there when she shouldn’t have been

but nobody said it was their fault

or asked them to explain

why after being fed, clothed, petted and cossetted

by women

they chose

to make women their victim

no, that nobody had an answer for

maybe if they did, they would say

women did this to them, poor dears

it’s not the fault of a man! He was spoilt

and that’s a woman’s fault! She didn’t

teach him correctly, he had no choice!

And all the women who gave her

cross looks when she came in with her knees

scuffed from climbing a wall or when she ran

ungainly across the lawn and they chided her

for being ‘unladylike’

smiled at the fattened calf and said

oh my daughter would be so lucky

to marry a man like him! If only she

tried, a little harder.”

Bulletproof

(Inspired by reading Cordelia Feldman’s novel In Bloom, reviewed after this poem).

When the rush comes

questions like: Why are you doing drugs? Are you an

unhappy child?

Do you realize how inappropriate it is?

Bad choices lead to worse choices. Slippery slopes. Killed brain cells.

Those questions seem irrelevant

for, that which you have searched

seemingly before awareness, birth, first flickering

is surrounding you and the fucking magic of it

is holding sorrow so far away

you can’t recall the last time you felt its fingers

closing around your throat in possession.

Yes sorrow

misery, self-hatred, dysfunctional thinking, dysthymia

depression, malaise, disorder, horror, they

have long sat at your scarred table

munching on your best intentions

not to throw yourself from a bridge

just because every day is so painful.

Parents show the whites of their eyes

like distrusting horses being inspected

for cavities and you are the hole

they observe without looking

wondering how they birthed

someone so strange, unexpectedly unwell

did we not take enough pregnancy vitamins?

Was it more like my ‘funny’ uncle and how he never

seemed quite right?

Blessed, tainted blood

that’s not it

anymore than sexual abuse or

quiet pinch of undiagnosed learning disorder

when there are cheery-faced celebrities proclaiming

their cured malaise, even as they grew up

in fire

therefore, it is not

the firing, how deeply you set, how many cracks

it is more the knife of life

cutting you open

silence surrounding before

you knew you were alone

a haunting long before words like

‘intrenched’ and ‘affliction’ were commonly nailed

like scarlet blooms on thirsty cacti.

Sorrow, you were flowing in my blood stream

like an unbidden life, wishing to suck mine out

marrow and all.

There’s only apologies

for not being able to be what you want me to be

grieving for the perfect mess made when I was doing my very best

not to cut myself to ribbons

and as self-hate dances with a wish to

pull hard on the string attached to light bulb

and just blink out ….

music and its phantasmagoric wonder

infiltrates darkness with a tender mercy

potent keys of a piano played on an empty stage

seem to possess a furtherment.

You, who sup at the high seat for well-adjusted

cannot really fathom, aside in dusty theory

the every day battle with spirits resembling

skewed reflection and how when joy arrives

soft and cloudy, she is split savagely

by the very strength of your inner tenency

to plunge headlong, when you want to do

the opposite.

Fate lifted me out of the car gently

like I meant more to him than a one-night-fuck

and maybe thinking back, I was

precious

in that turkish delight moment

softened at the edges by

little blue pills.

If I die in ten years from some malady

will you point your frozen heart at me

and say; “Her bloody drug use killed her”

without recalling

without it

I’d already be nourishing trees

with my life blood.

Will you state: “She was weak because she

couldn’t cope without them”

forgetting, we do what it takes

to stand upright, pulled from the inside

skins flayed on electric lines of penance.

For our generation, for some of us

those who didn’t yet know how to

put words to how we felt

the holes in our fabric

those diminishments

only worsening with perpetual self-reproach

(after all, didn’t we have a roof over our heads?

How the hell could we be so ungrateful?

Do they say that to people with cancer?

Only the smokers I think, we are banished

to the smokers ward if we suffer from

depression, they put us down as incurable

and slightly pathetic and faces turn away

like cliffs beckon our swift feet forward).

I danced beneath strobe lights, proud of reaching

19 and not having taken anything stronger

than weed, my iron will a contrast to

my crumbling will to live, sometimes

it fascinates me. He whispered in my studded

ear; “I know you disapprove of hard drugs but …

and like a violin played accutely until

you find yourself crying on the other side

of intensity, I saw the futility of holding back

how ‘good behavior’ didn’t work with the model

of suffering experienced daily, another way of

saying it was

fuck it

the pill was bitter like

poison

and returned me someone

I had not met in many years

happiness flooded my bloodstream

I didn’t care it was artificially induced

all moods are, all behavior dictated by

the flow and ebb of chemicals surging

in our amygdala.

Why do some of us fall so far?

When others seem oblivious of

sorrow like it’s a thing to bring out

at funerals and nothing more? Can we really

reduce it to ‘failure‘ and ‘success‘ and affix the

ugly admonishment forever, like kicking

someone all the harder once they are down?

The self-loathing and condemnation

invariably accompanying perpetual sadness

lifted like a shroud and music entered

my blood stream with an invoking joy.

Many years later I read about ‘self medication

and thought as a professional

trying to help people who felt

like I did / alone / worthless

how trite labels and ‘understanding‘ in general

was.

I’d write you a book of my foray with drugs

if it didn’t cause you to condemn me

then again

you already have

so why not?

Don’t throw stones

at glass

houses

unless

you’re bulletproof.

Cordelia Feldman writes on WP and has published her first book of fiction In Bloom. She’s a magnificent person and a genuinely beautiful human being. I urge you to purchase a copy.

In Bloom

I didn’t know what to expect when I purchased In Bloom. That can be exciting. I purchased it because I have followed the author Cordelia Feldman on her blog for many years. As a publisher/editor I tend to get high burn out for acquaintance reads but this was not at her behest, I wanted to read In Bloom, because the quality of Cordelia’s writing and humor over the years has often left me astounded.

In Bloom is semi-biographical set-in mid teen hood. Which might seem odd at a time when the adult author is struggling with metastasized cancer since her mid thirties and this has taken such a chunk out of her valuable life. One might not be blamed for thinking she’d write about a later time in her life. However, if the reader has ever had a prolonged battle with their health, they will intimately appreciate the difficulty of ‘going there’ and the positive impact of focusing on other things. In addition, the challenges a writer has to accurately reflect her past self, something few do realistically and Feldman excels at.

Cordelia has in her blog, done a monumental job of focusing elsewhere, she’s ‘bloomed’ in the years since her cancer diagnosis despite all obstacles. Her infectious optimism, her attitude of caring for others even as she suffers, the way she brings humor out of the darkness, and her undefeatable intelligence hook you from the start. With each blog post she refers sardonically to a book title, often obscure, and that quick mind of hers is as agile now as those who have never experienced a days sickness.

Likewise, with In Bloom, a little gem, a veritable Pandoras’s box replete with humor, nitty-gritty mindful observations, completely lacking in self-pity and with so much to evoke and fascinate. Why fascinate you may ask? Many of us can directly relate to being a teen and going through much of what Feldman has gone through, but many cannot. This is both a warning and a true invoking of a time in history and a type of lifestyle for the young that Gen X’ers and perhaps many others, can appreciate.

Just as we can put an album on and suddenly go back in time, In Bloom takes us to the tawdry experiment called youth and provokes some intense feelings about why we do what we do when we do it. For some, drugs are a clear cut no, no path to hell. For others, they’re a rite of passage. My personal take on it is; drugs are a gateway, to growing up and moving on, but for some, a gateway we don’t regret, nor judge.

The club scene of the 90s in the UK was spectacular and for many young things, going out and dancing all night on Ecstasy was the most fun they’ve ever had. If that makes them sound sad twenty years later, well you weren’t there. The clubs had such atmosphere and comradery that it was impossible not to see them as Magic Faraway Trees of their time. It might be like trying to explain to a non-drinker why a drink can feel so good at the end of the day. Or try telling your parents the Sixties weren’t a revolution.

All the proselytizing in the world and nary a judgment cannot convict those hearts who bloomed in that era and recall it with fondness and a little embarrassment. If you imagine ecstasy earned its name through hard graft, and lived up to it, there’s nothing shabby about those Turkish delight infused experiences anymore than throwing rocks at the Beats Poets for their dabbling with the illicit.

Feldman writes hypnotically and with great alacrity, understanding the mind set of the teen to an uncanny degree. Her intelligence as a writer is evident, but so is her sage wit. Feldman conjures a time that has passed but we can all to some extent, look back on. However, this is not all she does. In Bloom isn’t merely a celebration of taking drugs at raves, that really wouldn’t begin to give it its dues. In Bloom is an evocation of a young woman’s experience with mental illness.

Do drugs cause mental illness? We know they can but more often they exacerbate or draw out, what is already there, for chemical and hereditary reasons. We don’t truly know the myriad ways mental illness occurs, just that it does, and for so long, it was judged and condemned without trying to be understood. Feldman attempts understanding through description and succeeds admirably, in her gentle nudging toward insight through the stumbling’s of the newly initiated.

The main character of In Bloom is clearly a composite of the younger Feldman, but she’s also a character in her own right. Her experiences are not mere autobiography, she and her cast of bandits are all fully fleshed out people existing within In Bloom and they make you care about them, despise them, cheer for them. Do not forget 17 is the age mental illness will begin to rear its head irrespective of whether you are downing E or lemonade, although of course, the reaction with the former will be more dramatic and so it is.

I rarely want to stay up reading all night as I used to because I read for a living. But In Bloom was that notable exception, as I feel it will be for many of us. Before being tempted to cast stones and accuse Feldman of glamorizing drug-taking or blaming her cancer on her previous actions, consider the truth. We don’t get sick because we dabble with drugs as kids. We don’t start doing drugs because we read about them in a book. Pain has its outlets and kids know that well. There are deeper issues here, ones that In Bloom cannot speak to, but we all know they exist and we all know life is far, far more complicated than what we see on the surface.

The ultimate value of In Bloom lies in my knowledge that I would have enjoyed this book immensely whether I knew Cordelia as a writer beforehand, or not. Her skill as a writer has never been under question, she has proven her worth time and again with her tapping into the amygdala of her readership. Her intelligence as a thinker on this planet, is beyond refute. I only wish deeply that she were given time to write more, as I suspect, in Cordelia Feldman we have a voice of our generation.

Je suis désolé de n’avoir pas été comme tu

For

what seemed like forever

and was perhaps

some lost sand

sifting through light

slower when observed

turning like eager sun dial

face capturing shape and shadow

as the moon faced women

blue in Picasso’s rough brush

your edges sleek impossibly

by Masters deft curve, mimicking

nature readily, surely as time will

erode the fullness of our cheeks

your high bones hold you up

that half smile imperceptable

through memory shaking her

coat free of rain drops

as we drift further into long night.

I recall being good at Tug of War

in school with my artex white shirt rolled up

the thin fabric of my skirt flapping

dangerously high, leaning in for the pull

boys on the other end heaving, purposing

(this was always about more than a rope you know)

their extraordinary need to dominate and

our quiet, tugging urgency to defy

even then I might have upset the historical balance

made you proud, if you’d been watching

the length of rope dipping into glassy water

with the weight of decades, days spent

trying to form words of consolation where none

seem worthy enough.

You have slim bones that cannot pull heavy

rope from weighted oceans and even if

your arms were strong, I wonder if you would

gather me to you, within the eye of rushing storm

our fragile satellites eclipsing, resolving

sorrow with gentle grace, unleavened bread

yet to rise

to feel your perfumed palm on my forehead

the beneficence of your gaze, or hear

your voice, its sonorous depths, call for

me and gladly, I would present myself

for any time in your light is time lived

well and good and whole.

in your absence there is only

shadow and cold

reminding me, estrangement is unnatural

when it pares two segments of the same orange

apart, with no mend, balm or eulogy

great enough to salve the hurt

building within us, mountains of

dried salt from spent regret grown

dry.

I long and shall always long

to return to you

in that hour where memory

tells me

we laughed and

in your eyes I saw

my center

verdant and blooming

with the tender cobalt nectar

reserved for what can never

be replaced.

Les terreurs d’une nuit

In the dark when you cannot see well

and squint futile

shadows take on recollection

you are, again, that child

wide-eyed and awake in night

seeing monsters configure themselves

at the foot of your bed

and maybe

climb on in.

Time is definitely female

a circle and not a line

she curves backward

like a hungry snake

devouring her tail

she dives forward

impulsively, unknowingly

as if she too

is unseeing.

Though decades pass

we speak still in the dark

in the voice of a child

surging from within us

bile, relief, sweet, salty, sticky fingers

eating the last of childhood

forbidden to those who

no longer grow upward

only inward, if they are

lucky.

I have lain in many beds

with lovers, sometimes alone

standing in, for absent friends

memory like a scar, whispers

near and far, recollection a drumbeat

solace in stillness, the cliff you walk to

without seeing its drop.

It always scared me to hear

the sounds of night dance around me

in abandonment

though more than anything I wished

to join in

their unseeing merriment

as if by releasing my fear I could

inhabit a deeper rest.

And tell her to stay

cotton-in-braille

My mother sits on the side of the bed, it is 1980 or 1999 or never or sometime in the seventies or perhaps she’s not really there …

Her indent remains after the door closes, after the light is extinguished in the green hall way, where usually people go to sleep and she goes away, away, away …

Even then I could not see well, I squint into the half light, I look at the painted gypsy caravan wardrobe my parents picked up in a flea market before I was born, the cheap thin wood which now, years later, would be considered ‘antique’ – oh the absurdity of those things.

I think of them, crouching on elastic knees, abundant youth, painting, red and blue and yellow. I think of the song I learned in nursery about a rainbow, I think about gays appropriating rainbows later on and how ‘gay’ is not how most of us felt. How appropriation is always ironic.

When I began to stop wetting the bed, my father bought a calendar and stuck it on my wall, he would let me stick stars on the days I did not wet the bed, when I got enough stars he said, something great would happen. It had to be better than the machine I’d had the year before that ‘buzzed’ when I wet the bed and woke me up. I didn’t see how sesame seeds and electric buzzers would stop any child peeing in their nightmares.

A week later I opened my curtains, there was a stuffed toy rabbit on the windowsill, it was slightly damp from being there all night, and it smelt like fur and home. I still have it. It still has me. I never named it. How do you give a name to the earning of pain?

We lived in a basement, it was moldy in the Winter and cool in the Summer. I couldn’t see the sky, I grew to like the idea of living underground, of burrowing deep into the earth beneath city concrete, where the bodies murmured against river mud. I believed in Ghosts. Ghosts most certainly believed in me, they were my companions.

They shimmered past in half-light, caught in doorways and shining windows and dour corners. They contorted into devils by the astigmatism of my eye, becoming faces with fangs, fingers reaching upward. I wondered even then, why I feared the unseen more than the seen. Why what was not real felt more real than real? How ghosts could become my torment, when the world outside felt equally remorseless? Why not put them away and tackle that which existed? Perhaps that is exactly why. For a child who did not know how to make things right.

My wardrobe was little for a child, I was little for a child, my bones were plastic and breakable, they snapped when I folded myself tightly into corners, and the four cheap velour rabbits bought one Easter sat alert and watchful on the windowsill with a half moon shining in and lighting the face of the wardrobe into a grimacing creature.

The rabbits and I heard things. We saw things. Through bad eyes and deaf ears. The sound of my mother leaving, her presence skirting the room like a flamingo dancer, her lithe form, her long graceful arms with impossibly thin wrists, the smell of her on my skin because I was born of her, and then born not at all.

A clock did not exist on the wall, it did not tick down time, it did not remind us of what we had lost, it was not there, it left only the outline of its being like a circle set by sunlight on fading paint. A sundial without hands, without notion of time. Existing as planets exist, not realizing they circle the other.

My clothes grew tight as I elongated and sloughed the years, I kept an empty bottle of my mother’s eye make up remover by my bed, it smelt of her, as her hairbrush did, I wondered how she could live without her hairbrush. I did not wonder how she could live without me.

The tenants of the tall building were unhappy and they smiled a lot to cover it up. They said things like; We will be glad to look after your little girl. When my father cycled away, relieved, lighter, seeking a woman, seeking freedom, I stood on the doorstep and watched and the ache in my chest felt like a piece of lead piercing unnamed parts and I thought of my mother, how when she was my age she watched her parents sail back to Africa whilst she stayed still and I realized … how she and I were interchangeable and only the years were different.

Once, my mother said her mother put perfume on a handkerchief and left it for her and she kept it under her pillow. I kept my mother’s hairbrush under mine, it smelt of the oil of her curly hair, and the damp of my tears and the dust of time, sweeping her skirts along the empty floor.

I am alone now. As I was then. It feels the same. It feels worse because there is no illusion. Nothing like the future to hide behind and solace yourself with. No ‘things will be better when you grow up’ after you have grown up and realized they are not.

Again we are back in my bedroom. She is standing up. She is sitting down. The moment of her departure is fuzzy like my eye sight and I tell her, in years to come I will lose my eye sight and you will gain yours and my father will still be cycling away not knowing they piled on top of me and beat me to pieces, or that three little boys could throw marbles so viciously until a little girls heart burst and she ran away.

She turns to me and says something but it was twenty years ago. It was never. It was yesterday and I cannot see what she says or how she says it, to know if it was meant or just words spilled onto temporary carpet. I cannot know because she did not know, and our act was just a part of a grander outcome, both of us have forgotten and remembered many times since.

I love her in a way that slices through the fat and gets to the bone. I love her in a way I cannot articulate meaningfully but she knows and that’s the worst part, she knows. Maybe ever since I have found my father’s bicycle and learned to follow his trail, looking for her, looking for myself, seeking the way out of the high rise and the pinching boys and the ugliness that turns away when they see what is happening because maybe they are glad.

It is a day later, a year later, a decade past. We sit on roof tops in the weak sun and eat boiled sweets. Ants pick at our toes, dandelion’s die and float in their seed form to be wished upon and we leave them alone, already knowing, wishes are foibles.

You say it won’t hurt but it does and I knew it before it happened but I let it happen because of the ache inside that needed anything, even if it was pain.

The roof top is strewn with the debris of childhood, and my mother’s brush no longer smells of her, it goes through my hair like it was only my straight, boring hair it had to brush its entire life, as if she never existed and we did not sit on the bed together, the curtains closed nearly completely, only a hint of darkness spilling through.

If I had remembered I would have told her then, do not leave me when the time comes in twenty years, do not say goodbye a second, a forth, a nineteenth time. No matter what you think I have done, how disappointed you are in me, what disgust you hold in your heart. Instead remember this, the moment we sat quietly and I put my hand in yours and said it was okay and you cried and I cried from then until forever, without using my eyes or my ears or my mouth.

My father is cycling away from me, he is squinting ahead as if he sees something worth seeing, and I am turning, watching my mother close the door, asking that it be left open just a crack, to let the light in, hearing her steps in the corridor, not quite believing she will never come back. Because children always believe in magic. And Ghosts. And Monsters. And boys with marbles in their cheeks and demons in their eyes.

When I woke next to you and you asked me if I had a bad dream, I watched you as you sank back down into sleep and your hair fell across the pillow, the tangle and darkness of it against white linen. You could have been her, I could have been him, we could have never had a child, I ask you not to, please, do not, I don’t need to be born.

That’s why I was late, and why you struggled for 40 something hours in labor, they should have cut you, small as you were, small like me, but they didn’t, maybe it was cruelty, we have seen a lot of that in our life haven’t we and it wouldn’t surprise either one of us, or maybe it was the belief that women were strong enough no matter what, and we know that to be true also, even as we think it’s a damn shame sometimes.

You were strong enough and I was strong enough – to survive or endure but never really thrive – maybe you did – perhaps you were the only one who could – I had my eyes set on a future that never came, and a bicycle turning the corner, and my grandmother waving me from the street as I climbed the stairs to my class, and just as she turned to go, I ran back and I came outside and called her name and she said; Why aren’t you going to your classroom? And I wanted to say; Why would I go into a classroom? I’m not going to learn anything there? I have learned more here sitting on this bed, watching my mother leave, hearing her say things she did not say, wishing I were as powerful as the God of the wardrobe and not being able to eat my marzipan frog she brought me last. Because she gave it to me and I could not consume it and for it to be gone.

And you would have understood because you had your emotions close to your skin as I have, which makes you easily despised and sometimes admired. Because you were a coward as I have been, letting her be crushed by your absence and thinking it nothing at all, when you set sail again and again leaving her with a handkerchiefand a loneliness the size of Africa. I could not fill that loneliness although good God I tried many, many times, but when you break someone, you can put them back together, it does not mean they can hold anything you then pour into them.

She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw, and that from a child who didn’t yet know how to lie. I compare my lovers to her now. Wonder if they could beat her at chess and laugh because I know they could not. Think on how she managed to stay strong even in the harshest currents, when I cannot always stand without leaning. I look nothing like her, there is only sometimes in the cast of light, a glint of her in my eyes, looking back and when I see it, I ask her, why didn’t you spit me out before I was whole, so that you never had to be disappointed and I never had to lose you, then and now and never.

My grandmother taught me to swim in a basement, I dreamed the river would break its banks and my little home would be drowned. I dreamed my father was on the bottom bunk and I on the top and every time the water receded he was lifeless and I could do nothing, except scream impotently underwater for him to live. My grandmother died before I was old enough to let her know the truth, that I was not her grandchild but a water sprite dredged up from the river mud and set to swimming in dreams not of my own. That I had no parents but the marzipan figurines of night terrors and mares and I peed in my bed until I was too old to tell and old enough to lie.

Learning to swim was the only thing I learned fast and well, everything else came slow and difficult, just like trying to love someone who doesn’t love you, or expressing things too painful for words. I could sit with my parents and paint my wardrobe but I could never, ever, close the chink of light coming in from the slightly opened curtains, spilling on the floor where she walked across, soundlessly, growing dim and incomplete like the china dolls set back on a distant shelf somewhere.

Now I wear heavy glasses and even that is not enough, I cannot drive at night, I see things that are not there, and do not see what is. I think that is quite ironic really all things considered. My stomach hurts to think of how easily the brush goes through my hair, and how girls with curly hair never needed hairbrushes, so how hers became mine, seems like it always was, and the bottles she left behind were empty when she was here, when she was gone, when she never was.

If one day I am asked, I will say, I tried my best, I learned to swim well and I could pick up one of those weighted bricks from the bottom of the azure swimming pool but nobody came to see me swim so I did not compete well and soon I gave it up altogether. I will say I remember my grandmother running after a man who had broken in to watch us swim and bellowing at the top of her voice she scared him off, all 5’1 of her. I think my mother would laugh at that story, she has a wonderful laugh, it lights up her face and makes everyone else in the room join in.

We will not invite the shadows, we will not ask the ghouls or the disappointments to attend. We will stay the two of us, and wait it out. The past, the present and the future. We will talk on other things and not linger on those that prick and make us bleed. We will circumvent the pain like a sleeping lion and I will make her smile at my stories, the way I did once, once some time, some where. I have forgotten exactly when. The two of us, so alike and so different, sisters, strangers, with love the size of a river, with regret as deep as a drowning. Things never said on the tip of my tongue, burning with love, as we are quiet on the edge of the bed, with my mother about to leave and yet, still there, and me, always leaning, leaning towards her. Wanting to reach out. And tell her to stay.

Don’t have that kid

xrays-for-hearts

The therapist leaned back in her chair

light from the window framing the space in-between

“Your mother didn’t leave you now, she left you at six, many years ago

you cannot grief for, what you have never had.”

I thought of this as the clock wound its message of time

always against us, years apart, years unlearning reasons to love.

“What purpose is served in trying to reconcile when you neither know

why she has never loved you, nor what you did to cause this latest eruption

and given the certainty of it, perhaps consider, it’s the other way around, not

whole then broken, but always broken and never fixed.”

I tried to remember the last time I saw my mother. For a moment

I could not recall her face, or what she was wearing that last time

and my chest felt tight with anger at myself until it came and she

was real once more. I reached out in my mind, the way I have been

doing since childhood and tried to touch her, the image as always

grew dim and receded.

“The history as I understand it is, you never resented your mother

for leaving you at six, you defended this action when others condemned her

because you just wanted her to be happy, that was always more important

than your own happiness.”

I nodded dumbly. Silent and unable to articulate any further

response.

“She clearly did not wish to have children, that is no shame upon her,

however she did have a child and she left that child, with little regard for

that child afterward.”

I thought of the brief lunches, the walks down shopping districts, my

wanting to carry her bags even when smaller than her, a protective

fierce desire to do something, anything to win favor. How time seemed

so very, very short in those days, of fleeting moments built on years.

Want being the predominant emotion, desire for, longing, missing,

apart from, that continuation of chasing shadows.

“She had her own life.” I replied. Thinking of one of our last conversations

where she said; “Candy I don’t understand this need you have to be close

to your parents, I was never close to mine, you are an adult, you should

have your own life, when I married my second husband he became

my life. That is how it should be. We should not hold onto our parents like that

it is not healthy.”

As much as it cut me, like that metal string used to carve cheese blocks

I knew a part of me agreed with the part of her

who spoke of practicality rather than ‘duty’ and freedom over

the slavish obligation to ‘feel’ a certain way about people whom

many times we did not have connection with.

I recalled how much she disliked her mother, who was gauche, and

could not spell and only wore trousers and sensible shoes, who laughed

a lot and could sing bawdy songs and may have been unpolished

but also did not really defend her daughter against things

unbidden in the dark.

“My mother saw me as being like her mother, whom she

was not fond of. I was not the sort of daughter she would have chosen

had she had a choice, I had some things going for me, that she was proud

of, like my ability to socialize and make friends, she was always quite

cerebral and found it fascinating. She liked how I was good at gymnastics

and physical things, but my mind was not her mind, I didn’t inherit

her abilities, I was too emotional, too needy.”

“Perhaps it’s human nature to have a favorite child, to see yourself in one

of your children over another, to have preferences, but

if you condemn a child just for being different you are

instilling a life time of approbation and it seems, she was

treated very well by her grandparents who thought highly of her,

even her parents, building an ego and self-confidence, something

she never did for you, instead knocking you down, where you

didn’t have the ability to be so egocentric even if you had

tried.”

I recalled the time she told me she had never forgiven me

for my past crimes, I could not recall what they were, I do not

think she could either, it was more of a sour feeling she had

which I reminded her of, a mistrust, we both have that in

common, an inability to trust anyone, we do not sleep

sitting up, we take a long time to switch off, I found this

similarity comforting, she did not know it existed or the other

things we had in common, there were many.

“If I believed in myself as much as her, I would surely have

gotten a different response. But it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, if

you taint the ground water, the flower never thrives.”

In her garden, she grew roses, her mother grew roses too, one

Birthday I bought her many plants, she said they died because

of the weather, I knew she had not watered them, I did not

know how to reach her or please her. Lord I tried.

“She made it clear to you she did not need you or want you

in her life, she said she had not forgiven you for past trespasses

suggesting the woman who proclaimed not living in the past

held grudges from the past toward her only daughter

quite thoroughly.”

I knew what the death knell was, I knew it was a combination

of speaking out about my grandfather, her father, what he

was guilty of doing, and this, not out of malice or a wish to shame

but a desire to move beyond, to save, to love. It was the worst

idea and despite not being from a place of hate, was taken

as a betrayal, she is a lot like me, she finds it very hard

to overcome betrayal, it stays with her a long time, she

may grow used to pretending she is okay with it, but

at the back of her mind she seethes.

The second death knell was when my father, who

most of his life gave the text book definition of impartial

uninvolved, stood up for me against my mother not

wishing to destroy anyone but due to my illness and seeing

how much I had endured, thinking kicking me when I was

down was not right, he said so, and she never, ever

spoke to either of us again. My father who had lost his

brother decided this was okay because he said, life is too

short, although in truth, we were

all more than that, far more than that, our blood was shared

in a maze of snakes, I wished so much it had not come to

this place of emptiness.

“Your mother knows how to love and protect herself and that is

about it, she may feign love for others, but the truth remains

she is mostly concerned about surviving and whatever it takes

and that does not include you, never has, you are really an

after thought or something to feel guilty for.”

“I didn’t want her to feel guilty.” I said, thinking of

our conversation when she left, I am six, I sit in bed, my toys

are watching in the dark, their glass eyes gleam, she is crying

I have not seen my mother cry but maybe twice, I sense

she is on the edge, I want to help her fly, it doesn’t matter how

I feel it matters only that I save her, I tell her I love her and she

must do what she needs to. I meant it then, I mean it now, and

yet she thinks I am her enemy

which destroys me, every time I think about it, with her

father, the true enemy of us both, but she cannot allow this

truth to exist, as he is her maker, she must venerate his memory

even as he caused this breakage, even as we pay him homage in

our exile, she would choose him over me, the daughter whom

despite her belief otherwise, has never betrayed her, has never

been against her. I hear her say to me; “You must talk badly about me

as you criticize your father to me, you must equally condemn me to

him when you speak, you are two-faced, I have never trusted you.”

Words can be knives, they can be sharper than nightmares

piercing our armor, our very life blood, the sustaining force

we try to hold together with rags and pins, I wanted to scream and

say; “Please do not see me this way, you say I scared you with my

illness and you can not handle me calling upset, or afraid, yet

your husbands ex wife called regularly with just the same, you did not

banish her, and your husbands daughters did nothing of what

I did all those years, yet they are never wrong, how can this

double-standard exist when you know the truth?” My last

words; “I will always be here for you.” Asking her to speak to

me, be in my life, give me nothing but that, and she has

that power to say no, which she uses.

She would not hear because she has her version

although truth has no version only truth

I wish so much she could see how things really were

how beautiful we could be in those moments when

it worked and we laid down any grudge in favor of joy

life after all, is so short, so very, very short.

When you don’t matter to your own mother it is

hard to imagine why you should ever matter to

anyone

this is probably what I have struggled with the most

all of my life, though that is my fault for not being

stronger

feeling I am not worthy and there is no reason anyone should

want me or love me, or not betray me

I try hard, but I fail, again and again

it does not help that nightmares come true, you fear

and so it happens, she walks away, she does not

look back.

I hear her laughing somewhere, I hear her

living her life without me until one of us is gone for good

and then it will be forever too late

“She told me she read a poem I wrote years ago where

I wished that she was dead, but that was not the poem

I wrote, I wrote that I had felt the loss of

her all this time as if she were not alive, because when you lose

someone who is alive, it is worse in some ways than

when they are dead. That is what I meant, but she chose

to see it as my wishing her dead, which is the opposite

of every prayer I have ever had. As a child I would beg

the God I did not believe in, to save my mother

to keep her from harm. And the God I did not believe in

would not reply. Angered maybe that I did not, could not

believe or have faith,

in anything.”

The therapist remained silent, I knew from experience

a mixture of wishing I could just get over my goddamn

childhood and grow the fuck up, or is that me talking? Is

that my mother? I hear her voice often, sometimes she is

singing at a piano in the bar where she met my father

and I am as yet born, I go up to her, I am wearing a black

jacket and it has piping down the sides, I ask her not

to keep the pregnancy; “Take it from me lady, it’s better that

way, if you believe one thing, this is it, don’t have that kid.”

And I have a Southern Drawl which of course I have

never possessed, but how I wish she heard me and

I was never consummated, even as friends decry this, with

platitudes of; “Oh but think of the difference you have had

on this world!” Oh give me a break, none of us really matter

and if we could undo our existence, is that so bad? Is it as

wrong as taking an overdose? No, of course not, so get

over it.

I recall once she said I would

never be as talented as her and I could not write and then

I showed her my novel and she actually liked parts of it, yes

she cannot help condemning and criticizing, it is who she is;

The Editor, someone who knows and has a red pen

the very opposite of her parents, her weak mother who

did not stand up for her, her father who loved her the

wrong way, but what is wrong between blood? A lot I think.

When she liked a part of it, much as she tried to say it was

all irredeemable, I saw the surprise on her face and that

tendency toward hurting me and I felt happier than I ever

had just for a moment, before it was lost, thinking she was

proud of me. “You can’t take that away.” I shout up to

The Fates who have decided we are not to be together

in this life time and since there is no other (life time)

this is it, a separation, every day I live knowing she lives

and we are apart, it feels like someone has a hot iron

they are pressing it against my heart. Maybe it makes me

who I am, someone who cares too much, not everyone’s

cup of tea. Some people hate me on sight. Just like that.

I wonder, did she? Did she? Did she?

She said; Don’t lie about who you are,” but

we have all done it, it’s part of our fantasy, especially

if we hate ourselves, the only choice, else we’d not be able

to do anything and that was my father’s choice, one I

didn’t want to emulate, I had to find a way to function

without excuses, she couldn’t understand, she has a lot of

self faith, I had none, she abhors liars, but she lies too, only

better.

You see, I looked up to my mother

she used to say; “Never have idols, they are unhealthy.” She also

told me not to drink orange or apple juice, I did listen and

now I have no cavities, that is her doing, many things are

her doing, good things along side holes and pits. But

she was her own idol just as she was mine, so really

that’s a moot point, for a little child, watching her mother

who is always out of reach, I hear myself say; “Please. Please

don’t go away, don’t do this again.” Maybe that is

why she did, because she had the power, over me

who else would ask her to stay? Who else wants her?

Or any of us? Who? Foolishly I thought as we grew

older she would need me, that was a really stupid

thought, I berate myself, I never did predict her,

she is quite wild and untamed, a good thing, my heart

has loved her unwaveringly all these years

it has made me who I am in so many ways

good or bad, such as it is, I have grown on

a mixture of pain and loss, like a thin weed

can make life from between two stone slabs

but usually come the first flood or drought

it will be the first to

wither. She said; “You caused yourself to get sick”

I could tell her what the doctors said about smoking

during pregnancy or how my stomach has never been

okay, how can a child cause their own sickness even

before they get sick? No. No. It wasn’t me.

She is rarely sick, she has the fortitude of someone

who would will away sickness, I believe it. I try, I do not

succeed. Many times daily I speak to her in my

head just like when she brought me a marzipan frog

from a trip and I could not eat it, as it would mean

losing something of hers, so I coveted it, and she said;

“that’s so pathetic, you always do that, look now it’s spoiled and you

did not even get to taste it.” I could not tell her

“Oh yes I did, every night, when I looked at it, I thought

of you and hoped you loved me, and this gave me

so much joy, I was literally grown fat with it.”

FortuneTeller

People didn’t care

Just like with the Nightingale

The dead bird outside Starbucks

Didn’t warrant consideration

His feathers mottled by hot pavement

I felt

Bad I hadn’t noticed at first

But I’d been watching you walk

And recalling the depth of your coffee eyes

Whom of us lovers, has time

For dead birds

Finally a man thinks he’s brave to kick

Feathered corpse off to the side

Indicative of these times

I thought of the Happy Prince

Giving away his gold and jewel eyes

Enlisting a little bird to pluck

His riches to give to the poor

How I read that in school sitting

Elbow to elbow with sloe eyed kids who

Scratched their dry elbows raw

And the very same week we came across a dead bird

Its grave still beneath the weeping willow

Fastened by a Palm Sunday cross we’d kept unbroken in a book

Where children learn almost by hook and rook

Whether to practice compassion

Or not

I said to you; Oh look, it’s a poor dead bird

I wonder why it died? As if flung from the sky

And your eyes were hurt just as I knew they would

Because you are a grown child

I’d be bound to love

And we’d bury birds together

In every place they fell

Even if only a few care

Beginning in the playground

Watch them

Children will show you

Their future character.

Preparation for our dissolution (3)

1_max_494Down the drain

Watch. Watch carefully. See. See clearly

The comforting sound of water retreating in circles

I used to say that water turned to milk

I used to think when cream mixed with transparency

Pearls swirled and ebbed like fire flies in dark.

Kept warm beneath tiny radiators stuck on walls like beige moths

Glowing against a 40 watt bulb

Don’t open the window it’s stuck, it’s stuck on being underground

We breathe in soot, we turn ebony in our effort to

Rise.

She couldn’t lift the baby carriage, in those days it weighed

More than she did and the stairs, sticky with linoleum were

Narrow like her little arms attempting to heft us toward

Light.

We mired in dark. We stayed still as stalagmite in caves

Children’s books. Detective novels. Smite the key in the lock

Green plants fitfully reaching. Reaching. Reaching

Your arm is never long enough.

Recall the smell of boar hair brush. Of Clinique blue bottles

Is it magic? How does it glow? Mouthwatering

How they had a misted outside, I ran my finger down and traced outlines

Someone in NYC designed this shape. The shape of places far and lettered.

She had wool, it got wet washing her hair, the edges frayed

It smelt like grandma’s farm with damp goat fur at 5am

Nobody had anything then. We opened our hands to emptiness

Paper lotus. Needle. Oh Lord. Darn a way out.

Everything is so different now. I did not learn how

To cooperate

How to join. How to thrive. What if you are

Born only of coal?

The heavy weight of circular plates laid over paving stones

A funeral of sorts, bury the mother, bury any off-spring

Only blood. Only letters after names. Knights and paupers

The history of war. Victors write. The rest rot beneath daisies.

She grew insufficiently, facing away from sun

Her skin parchment, knees knocked

The pain in her. Oh the pain in her! No words.

She closes her eyes. Turquoise like the stones found in New Mexico

When she was told that, she said; Yes I will buy a ticket

Board the plane, swallow the dream, take the red pill or

The blue.

It was so savage. The quiet. The silence.

When she left there was nothing but the brush and the bottles

Gathering dust, follicles left spinning in air

Are some of those skin cells, still her?

Reconstruct

Is it any wonder she knows best, people of vacillation

And change? She knows the feeling exactly when told one thing

Tomorrow another truth hangs primly in

Your narrow closet.

Her ear lobes are detached, she read once in a woman’s magazine

Attached ear lobes are a sign of beauty

She has larger knee caps than her shins

The skin barely covers her climb

Trees of white, pearl, honey, comb, hair brush, blue

Bottles.

They didn’t fix the streets they remain

On fire

And they ate coal in preparation

For their dissolution

“Il y a dans le coeur humain une génération perpétuelle de passions, en sorte que la ruine de l’une est presque toujours l’établissement d’une autre.” Rochefoucauld.

 

Only child

pexels-photo-573266

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