New girl

A broken bottle

a discarded hairbrush

totems within totems

effigies of past and present

a light knock on the door

she’s wearing a French halter dress

her ankles are slim like my mother’s

she’s not my mother

her skin is brown like my mother’s

she’s not my mother

her black hair is curled like my mother’s

she’s not my mother

her perfume speaks of wanting passion

it belies the faux expression on her face

attempting trickery

she bends to me and pretends to be enchanted

by childhood photos

they are not her photos to touch

with her careful, manicured pink nails

a color my mother always hated

she had more style in her little finger

the one with dupuytren’s contracture

more a question mark than deformity

it didn’t stop her playing the piano

carving her place in my father’s heart

and this imposter? Flicking her way into our life

like a cheap fan you buy, because you are sweating

I want to tell her, using grown up words

I may be six, but I know what she’s up to

with her shifting glances toward my handsome father

with her endearing crossing of espadrilled feet

if she touches my mother’s hairbrush

I will burn

this happy house down

Weather vane

Before they laid bricks on her and called her a place

not a thing of flesh and light

before she lost her ability to mimic cat

and jump unheard

out of open windows

before her arms lost their ache to

live unbridled unburdened in

the clear surround

of joy

she was a light footed creature

listening to no scold

obedient to no rule

her father called her willful

her mother, spirited

her grandmother covered her face with faux shame

though she hid a smile

cousins were told to mind themselves

around her urging sprint

lest she rub off

some of her mercury

some of her wild saffron

the thing compelling her shine

when all seemed still and lifeless

a hurtling progress to wholeness

they forecast her early demise

said nothing, nobody could subsist

as fevered as her run

Zola Bud without shoes

temerity pulling her strings

as if puppetmasters were sea sprites

fashioning their dreams on tierra

with undomesticated weather vane

bound tight to wildest storm

Fur coming off in patches

Look at me

I mean really observe

Seeing me you’d think I’d be most in love with

my high heel boots, the length of my hair

the silver rings on my fingers

the feel of a woman pulsing beneath me

the heartbeat of dancing when well

the rejection of banality

and you’d be right of course

but not nearly as correct

as the love I possess

for my old ted

his head mangled with smother

fur coming off in patches

his sad cotton eyes

seeming to tell me

everything of myself

in one slow gaze

Dear

Often I imagine, when you open someone up, peal away their layers, inside you find this pomegranate, bright in the way only nature can create. So many people have these rich lives; children, grandchildren, homes, adventures, careers, compassion. Beauty and abundance of life in so many forms. Social media exemplifies this which is why I need to limit myself, a bit like eating a box of chocolates. If I indulge too much, I feel overstimulated, lost in the sari’s of color from so many lives, people, worlds, thoughts. It’s not even the emotions, those I can relate to, it’s the living in technicolor.

When I think of what resides in my inner most self I see my old worn much loved penguin and little ted, I see me running into my grandmother’s arms. It is as if I am possessed by the past and not even present.

We are taught to live in the now or for the future. But never the past. Why? Because living in the past isn’t living, it’s remembering, it’s regressing. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor the past. But we must also move on from it.

If there were a house fire, it would not be the expensive things I’d seek to save. It would be my green Kermit The Frog, the pressed flower from the meadow my grandmother and I walked. It would be trying to save the past from flames, even as they climb nearer.

Occasionally I wish to lose it all, so I would be forced to start over. Without the weight of the past on my shoulders. Some people say we’d be better off if we didn’t recall the past, we’d be free of it, and able to be whomever we wanted.

The funny thing is, if I were a blank slate, I think I’d go out and start looking for much cuddled toy penguins circa late 1970s and patchy, lost fur little teds and green frogs with crayon on their eyes. I think I would climb right back where I came from. Because nothing since, has ever, ever been as dear.

I inhaled the knife

You didn’t encourage me to write or let me know I could do it

you told me; you can’t spell

you don’t speak any language well

you have split ends and are at times

manic like a dervish without charm

but you’re always on time, good at lifting heavy things

maybe you should organize talented people’s lives

because you don’t have any of your own …

talent that is.

I didn’t listen. Not because I didn’t believe you

Oh I did. I inhaled the knife.

Sometimes the road will hurt like a thousand feet

trodden on your back, weighing your down

but what can you lose? 

Still not speaking any language perfectly

you may hate me … but I?

I send you love and I send you love

because that’s all I have.

I remember the year

I found a rabbit on my window ledge

celebrating six months of not wetting the bed

I had peed into nightmares wondering

if you would ever return, but you never did

though you may be surprised

I gained strength through that pain

even when you think I am weak in my ways

I see the courage in being able to feel

the toughness it takes to love when you are not loved in return

because I still can’t spell and you laughed at me and said

what writer can you be if you don’t know

your pronouns from your iambic pentameter?

Hemmingway. Austin. Oh I can name a hundred … 

But I learned anyway and by then it didn’t matter

because you’d already made your pronouncement and left

your wet umbrella still propped by the door.

I thought of all those souls like me

who were not taught words of light

instead the dark shroud of incessant criticism

who did not learn how to believe in themselves

recalling all the reasons you gave

for why I will always be a failure and a disappointment

then I wrote it down

poured myself onto a page

not always perfectly groomed 

with the savagery of one who has

felt so much and loved so hard

in the glaring halo of afternoon

where yellow turns to indigo

suffusing everything 

momentarily incandescent 

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.