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.

We weep with everything but tears

photo of woman wearing nude one piece swimsuit
Photo by Jo Kassis on Pexels.com

Go in good faith

down that charred road

where holy mist

cusps day in feathered glove

the porcelain eyes of hills pay obedience to mauve cloud

trees taller than sound break through

smudges of dream wave in memoriam,  shuttering day

and O

je ne sais pas aimer sans toi. Je ne sais pas comment me passer de toi.

We speak in furled tongues our inner most thoughts

leaving confessionals on mossy rocks and the lay of light rain

full with sleep, the direction lost in tug of war with blackening ice

they slip beneath against hush of snow

covering our tracks with blanched fingers of ice.

We weep with everything but tears.

 

The huntress

yes

She

knows her power

heaving out of her like

red clay forming stars

the power it has on

those who watch

unable to quit her

imperfection as much an aphrodisiac

as those fine lines converging into

her thin bones

drawn tight and ageless

she smiles a drowsy grin

down turned eyes glinting

the thin shake of her hair

sharp curve in high cheeks

noble and unrepentant

she has more confidence than you

with your excuses and your fumblings

could ever possess

if she’d taught you, she’d have said

no, no, no you’re doing it all wrong

if you want that woman to like you

be cold, be indifferent

and occasionally, throw her a scrap

don’t ever show her your full regard or

the depth of your eyes

heft her over your shoulder when the time comes

take her to a dark place and without apology

do what you must, thinking nothing of her

she’ll be crazy for you and that’s how it’s done

you know that’s so, because you’ve seen it

every weak knee’d soul who begs for her

underestimates her lash

only small, seemingly weak

her fierce nature, a molten thing

she has them on their damn knees

it’s not even a look, a word, a sign

it’s the power exuding from her focus

she believes in herself totally and knows

if she slips even a little, they’ll eat her for dinner

feast on her failure like the hungry things they are

I want to be like her one day

I can wear short skirts nearly as well

but as she tutors me in the act I know

it’s a parody, a puppet act compared to her art

I may look the part, even when drunk

act a little like her

but she’s used to the taste of blood

and I don’t know how to eat it raw

sometimes I think of her and why

she’s the kind who defies all the rules

charging that opposites

and only opposites must attract

when she could be my cousin and yet

I want her, despite myself

I want her to want me and that’s the rub

she wants nothing of anyone and never will

hers is an icy indifference

cool queen of thorns and calm

she controls the game, for it is a game

by moving through this life without letting yourself slip

requires poise and balance only artists of the tightrope possess

I am filled with trembling emotions

impossible to blot out or walk in a straight line for

I see my error in my every move

she wasn’t interested, because she saw me coming a mile off

an unsteady shadow cast on her savvy wall

canny enough to smell, the scent of desperation on my breath

I learned from the huntress

and failed my exam

she makes mouths turn dry and water

by just being everything we cannot

remorseless, pitiless, without guile or guilt

somewhere inside of her there is a girl

we want so badly to take as our own

if only for an hour

and without seeming to try

she holds herself apart, unreachable

closes each desire with her little hands

gazing into our disappointment

with a small smile

there is a sadness in her winning

it shows in the day time

when the light hits her eyes and they

despite their great beauty

look ancient

Ode to E — hijacked amygdala

I used to turn down drugs with frequent kiss of teeth from 13 years old when they came in the sticky palms of acne faced kids at parties all twinkly and bold, I said I didn’t need them, my teddy and my hope were salvage enough from any monsters, what need had I of medicated […]

via Ode to E — hijacked amygdala

Turkish delight

alexander-yakovlev-dancers-everythingwithatwist-17I didn’t have time to un-knot my hair or brush it down

it used to hang to my thighs and I had to cut it

when the sickness came and I was green with bile

all those years I held my hair as my calling card

for I had nothing else

so when you see me this way you know

I’m not pretending anything anymore, this is me

this is the girl you once loved

I remember thinking I was old back then

what a laugh

and time is a cordial of horrors and trickery

what we need to know is, it’s all in the eye of the beholder

so if I feel tired and beat up now, remember, I tell myself

in ten years I will rue the day I forgot to dance

I dance now

bare footed with dirty soles

to the memories of

our liquid union

and planes do not fall out of the sky

the day is quiet

despite the tornado in my mind

I would let you in and not let you out

shut inside me like a favorite book

chapter marked by the sinew of my want

clasp you tightly with my muscular need to belong

within your kaleidoscope, a star in your universe

behind these accoutrements and forbids  I burn electric

you never get too old for longing

I want you to take me in your arms

crush me into sugared pieces

eat each one and never spit me out

I want to become you and stay

inside your candied warmth

where amber things are less real

set in time to wait out storm

but you care about them more

as part of your compass, to set your destination

I was born of your desire

I am now without wing

soon I will fade into pieces

and nobody will pick them up to eat

 

 

The internal dream

Your soft hair

grace

beneath the moon

I imagine us

light limbed

piano hearted

slipping from key to key

hands on my face

tracing soft accompaniment

I lead you onto oak floor

dancing beneath wax

and French 75 on your breath

moving to a hum

the internal dream

your arms curled around my waist

close your eyes

see ancestors walk

silver hammered

your mouth crushing mine

the oval and the heart

echoing across sound

no barrier

the unraveling trip of clothes

pressing against skin

somewhere ivory music slows

candles burn out

we can smell in the dark

hear the sound

of our mutual breath

as you gather me

as I lean and become

desired

Lingua

If you saw everything in retrospect

What language would you hear?

Climbing through cumulus clouds

The color of death valley

Sand strewn prayers

Over scraped knees and heavy cello bow

You slapped me backhanded

I watched myself

Fall like water

Wet against the sound

It excited you to see

Blood on my lips

The outline of violence

Lacing time and roses with secrets

You look out at a stark dull day

Feel glad you have the assurance of what stands rigid behind closed doors

We wear bright smiles at parties

The golden couple, they admire our rehearsal

Like pedigree animals who mask their bad nature

I’d bite your hand

And he’d fill your throat with glass

The lowered sun casting a haze over

Our magnification

Teaching darkness to obscure the simmering

Hand pinching my thighs open, striking

Quiet match of fire beneath

I hold onto your dismissal

Like butterflies

Slipping and fleeting

Driftwood

Skipped stones as smooth as

Your tongue in my mouth

What language do you speak?

As you lean in to remove all hope

And pinching between wet fingers

Extinguish light til only the circumference

Of stars

Lend their distant

Glow

The light beneath the door

Remember when they used to bug your phone

The sound of rolling open polymer handpiece

Secrets folded in purring circle

Click, click, can aches be fixed?

What if you died

And left me a note

What would it say?

Who stands as muse

Now life has fled, her stockings shred

And bottles are emptied without drinking

I think the blood of us is watching

The shard of darkness cutting swaths of fracture across your face

Full days don’t exist

Come back here

To the light beneath the door

What does it do to beckon from shadow

If you paint from a photo, you capture no movement

Just faces in gouache

Stainless steel and fascimile reflection

A few minutes fooling ourselves

Nothing was sacred
Not even one thing?

If the lie was eaten

Did it vanquish all the time I spent, believing it

Was I the lie?

Inhabiting falsehood and words that curled like suppliant flesh

Weren’t you there with the needle?

Obsession

The other players were faking

Plunge the sharp, feel holy numbness

I’d follow you into the hollowed mountain of your madness and my error

For of emptied places only, you reign

Heartless and ready to start over new

As if nobody had existed and nothing was sacrificed

Memory in hose and mask plays her tricks

Writes a new damask script

And obedient

You condemn

Throw me tender under bus

With falsehoods and generalization

It feels like it did the first time

That’s when I knew

And still

I let you in, to scouge and vanquish, remove me by rubbing

Those promises

I didn’t beg for them

You gave freely in pretend

Though each one wasn’t meant

Then you went to church with a clear conscience

Because only Catholics have to repent

I was an addict and I didn’t know

My drug was you. My drug was you

My drug was you. My drug was you

Yes

She has

Russia folded in her eyes

The girl she once was

In balletic poise and straight long neck

She carries her mother’s lips in disapproval and mirth

The tan of her father come from outside, asking for iced hibiscus

Her long hands are her own

They play instruments and lovers

With careful solitary stroke

She has the curl of her grandmother crossing brow in stray wave

A sad gaze into ether, when you catch her off guard

And I am drawn to the shy fruiting shape of her mouth

As we talk and artfully avoid

What is undisclosed in space existing

Between strangers, then become friends

Not yet more

Will she understand? Unbutton one permission

Without need to drink liquor or gather foreign courage

From the same source we all go

Unsure and burning up with tiptoeing fever

I imagine

Stepping over the divide

Between her serenity and mine

Touching the cool fawn skin of her throat

Gathering her to me, as gardener arranges posie from wild thorn

Proffering possibility like dancers, sweating and sleek bodied

Will acquiesce their motion to soft fall of curtain

I know her heart will be close to her warm skin

Cantering like a wild appalachian

I know because I see the quiver in her narrow shoulders

Feel her keening toward me as shifting current

Caught in hesitation and mute query

It is my place to shake doubt with first touch

Banish half formed fears

Replace them with mutual need

See her eyes widen and take in

The fullness of our rounding desire

We move into the other

Like music attracting and repelling

Night winds, pregnant with sea spray

Leaving flowers, shining and damp

Beneath velvet sky, emptied of noise

Lest sound of her sigh and one word,

Yes.

Paint

I knew three painters

one changed her style and went from dream catchers

to white cottages

beaten by silt

on isolated

cliffs edge

the second

copied everything she saw

without an original idea

ended up

breaking her horse hair brushes on

the flint of her rage against the world

and the third

she painted me

with her mouth

and I

sung

like a bird

released from cage

in indigo, violet

vermillion and scarlet