Steel eyes

Why

don’t older people

express their despair

as much as young?

Do we numb ourselves so much?

Shame? A mask we don

to pretend we’re well

when everyone knows

ageing doesn’t bring respite

from demons.

It is the singular reason

aside chubby cheeks

I wish to be

16 again

for all the friends

who unknowing of pains

to come

had the tenderness

of a hundred, 40-year-olds

who have seen

and are

gone

into their

steel eyes.

It interests me to recall how much time a young person will give someone who is upset. There’s visible difference between what a young person will say and do, versus an older one, that I think has nothing to do with becoming more mature. Older people have little tolerance for depression. You would think, based on this, older people suffer it less, though we know this isn’t true. Is it to do with hope? Societal shaming of seeming weak if over 25 you still give it your time? I always wonder what those over 40 do by way of finding support and people ‘hearing’ them, when the entire world seems to shut you down by a certain age, including yourself.

Salvation

Detail lies

prism-like

at the bottom of the cheap glass

heche en Chine

blurred by straining eyes

brokenly watching colors

as they wink in and out

made indistinct

by tears, long rinsed

clear of salt

Revelation

I have little family but I have an aunt. My aunt reminded me today of the prayer of St. Francis. To give to others what you most need. She is not a Christian but she said it’s an apropos relative to karma and that awareness kills karma, once you learn the reason for something, it has no power over you.

Years ago I would not have imagined my aunt, whom I was close with as a child but did not see as a young adult, would be such a guiding force in my life. She told me people come into our lives, even those who damage us, as much because we ask them to, as they want to. That doesn’t mean if you are victimized, that you ‘asked for it‘ (you didn’t) but you play a part. Not meaning you are responsible, but you are not outside of the experience either and when you see that, you can see the flipside of the trauma and the value of the lesson.

By lesson, I do not mean, if you are victimized, that you are ‘being taught a necessary lesson’ because who the heck wants that lesson? But if you experience it, there is a way to turn it into a positive. I wholeheartedly agree. My dear friend Susi Bocks and I talk of this often.

I admire my aunt very much. I was always told not to admire those whom I have and they were open to derision by people who felt it their place to judge. But I’m listening to my gut on this, and I know who I admire and why. I feel it is not my place to judge, it is my place to be a positive thing in this world. That often helps me personally too. I admire her because she has literally gone through hell and not only succeeded, but flourished. She is one of the wisest, brightest, most likable people I have known and it saddens me that I didn’t know her as well earlier, but I’m so glad I know her now.

My whole life, I thought if I did something wrong, ‘karma would get me‘ and I had some fear related to that. But nothing good comes from fear. I now see that we have some power over karma, that it isn’t this force that can wreck us if we slip up, but something we can engage with. By being aware, we can play a part in how karma manifests. After all, we all make mistakes.

One of my ‘mistakes‘ I thought, was letting people into my life, who my gut told me were not healthy for me. I did this relatively recently and deeply regretted it. From the start I knew it was a mistake and the person was not who they said they were, but I felt sorry for them and wanted to help. Rather than regretting this and believing my having to walk away from them, as they became more unwell mentally, would lead to some karmic rejection in my life, I now see, I let them into my life to learn a lesson.

The lesson was I am not the same person was I was at 20 even if I didn’t realize that until recently. It would seem obvious? But in many ways, I focused on how similar I was to my 20 year old self. It’s only now, I see how different I am. My 20 year old self would have gone down the rabbit hole, would have pitied that person until they had power over me, and led to bad experiences of narcissistic personalities trying to dominate and control good people. I wouldn’t have walked away because I would have been triggered by ‘abandoning‘ someone.

The person I am today doesn’t let people do that.

Not long ago I felt if I turned someone away who was pushing my boundaries, I was abandoning them the way I had felt abandoned. I see now that if I carry this martyr complex of being abandoned, around as my yard stick, that’s what I will attract. I also see that from abandonment comes positive things like, compassion, and being a good friend and learning to do things for others because I wanted them done for me when I was young (be the change you want to see and all that).

When my mom initially left, I did not blame her. I understood her needs. I still do. When she rejected me later, people told me I should hate her, because she was ‘doing it again.’ I defended her and said: No she didn’t reject me then. it was what she had to do. I believe this, especially as a feminist. As for now? True, I can’t explain it. The reasons she gave didn’t seem enough, but as I have learned, what seems ‘enough‘ is subjective. Likely for her, it was the last straw. You may ask; What could you have done that would be a last straw? But it’s not about actual wrongs, so much as perceived wrongs. If she perceived things I did in my childhood, to be a litany of wrongs, there could be a last straw. My therapist said this wasn’t true, as at some point people have to do the right thing, which she believed was being a mother to me, but that’s a judgement statement really, as not all of us are born to be mothers.

I don’t hate my mom, I never have. I don’t even think she hates me, I think she just can’t stand me. Which isn’t the same thing. And whilst yes, it will always hurt, especially if I outlive her, I know she did what she had to do (to live well) and I don’t put her in a demonized role, where I play the martyr. This frees me to live my life (yes, without a mom) and be glad of those positive things I did get from her (and there are so many). Literally a day doesn’t go by when something she did/said doesn’t cross my mind in a positive way. I may have wished for her approval, but deep-down I know I am every bit as good as she and do not need anyone’s approval to see that.

Going back to recent events: Narcissists especially, know exquisitely how to push boundaries, they are fat on the idea they’re terribly clever, when in reality they’re following a trope that most Narcissists follow. Often a Narcissist will disguise themselves as an empath even as they are the complete opposite. When I began to feel uncomfortable with intrusion and daily pushed boundaries, I bought into the idea if I did something I would: 1. Hurt them 2. Be incongruous to my ideas of being supportive.

I have learned that while I want to give to others what I most need, as a form of being that change I want to see, and a valuable human being (defined as, someone who helps others and cares) I don’t have to take it to an extreme. It is alright to step away from someone who doesn’t respect me. When I did, I was proud of myself, but they continued to disrespect and demand. Since not being in touch I have felt myself again. I didn’t even know how much they weighed on me until they were gone.

Those of us who do care for others, especially those going through hard times, through no fault of their own, are particularly vulnerable to abuse. When you carry your former abuse with you, you paint a target, unwittingly. Whilst it may be hard not to see through that abuse lens, I see how if I continue to define myself by my losses, disappointments, regrets, sorrows, I will probably live in that place.

This may seem patently obvious to those who do not struggle. But before you judge me, consider, when you suffer from depression it is hard enough to move through the world, let alone think of others, or do the right thing. Coupled with health issues and no family, it is easy to fall into the woe-is-me trap. I am endeavoring to do this less. I can’t say I will stop doing it, or not fall backward, but I am trying. That’s actually all I can do.

As for Narcissists, stalkers and people who play mind-games. Thanks to my aunt I think I have the wisdom to recollect who I was years ago, a strong little girl who gave to others, what she had needed, out of a pure heart. And combining that with an adult who knows people can abuse that kindness, have more boundaries and safety-guards in place, to prevent being taken advantage of again.

You make your own karma. I choose to make mine by caring for others, but not letting them trample me. Hopefully, as we give what we need, we also receive. I believe this. Having met some wonderful people here on WP. Thank you all.

(This doesn’t mean I’m quitting writing out feelings, good and bad. No recovery advocates shutting down those, they’re better exorcized).

The nadir of naught

It’s very difficult to write

when you are depressed

when you know depression

isn’t fleeting

isn’t because something happened

but the same as

a piece of string

will get affixed to tree limbs sometimes

and despite all effort

not be able to get

free

O

I envy (you’re not supposed to envy, but I do)

those without this malady

the world would call them stronger

they may blush slightly and say

aw shucks it’s a lottery isn’t it?

I could be just as glum as you if

my dog died, if my car broke down

and in those instances I want

so much to say

nononono

that’s not it

at all

it’s crying on your wedding day

from pain not joy

it’s feeling strong at a funeral because

the wires in your head don’t fire right

it’s understanding you’re going to have to try ten times harder

just to stand and be counted

and even then

you may wish

not to be counted

because perversity

is the twin

of sadness

she breaks you into shards

snickering as you

flail to put things back

It’s very difficult to write

when you are depressed

when you know depression

isn’t something you can push through

like your MFA teacher bid

one night when you contemplated

cutting your wrists with broken pottery

almost on a lark when hearing; try to work smarter!

desperation surging unbidden

fast and dark like unfiltered coffee

always leaves its gritty mark

on the ennui of fileted souls.

(This is for all those who were ever shamed for being depressed and having depressive symptoms, for feeling they were ‘less than’ because they could not function seamlessly as others appeared to. I see you. You are counted).

I join you, though I am not you

Your smell stayed like a red hand print

Trying to grow in spaces that do not fit

I join you, though I am not you

Lingering in the periphery

Feeling a hard pain in the bones of my chest

Knocking like persistent woodpecker

a wick of red against gray

reminding themselves they can still fly

Only so much can be said of birds, or landscapes

yet grief? Grief is a world incapsulated in a tear

held to the sun and magnified, its kaleidoscope of color

without end

and while you may see me sitting at this table

with dried flowers catching wan Winter sun

my face a careful study of emotion beneath surface

I am actually at this very moment

lying on the unwashed floor

feeling cold tile invade my pores

just like the virus who crept into my stomach

changing everything like zealous house cleaner

see, on the floor I can curl up like I did as a child

pretend I am a dragon again, where ageing and its horrors

or just the spite of unbidden sickness

will not come for me, because I am no longer real.

The sun light will fade and with it, shadows come

reminders of our ephemerality

a dance with what is and what is no longer

the ghosts of my grandparents waltz beneath pear trees

their necks bent to dark skies, mouths slack with amusement

I thought then, nothing could disturb the fabric of the world

because youth told me so

and lies were easy to sew

delusion, such a merry friend

now it is not as easy and like them, my mask grows weary

often wishing to climb into bed and read

stories of others who have lived and died

sitting at tables, lying on floors, looking upward, open mouthed

finding ways to express the horror and brief respite

of coping with pain

I so admire those souls who laugh

though I suspect sometimes they simply do not think

of how things really sit

and that’s all right

because there’s no one way

of getting through this

the birds, maybe they know other means

perhaps that is why they migrate and it is has

less to do with warmth and more to do with

reminding themselves

they can still fly

(Expecting To Fly, by Buffalo Springfield, one of the best songs of the era https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzMl0-bhNcM&t=25s)

Not a lot

Some of the forgotten towns

circling big cities, lone wolves

warming fur against bright lights

wear their bleakness like a flag

the emptied streets at night where

no merriment is found, kids have

climbed aboard their bikes and motored

through snow if necessary, to escape

into the cold clutches of wine and euro-pop.

The touring people who do not live in these towns

glamorize by proxy

their little steeples, the preserve of history

how charming graffiti looks in a foreign language

they do not see behind the doors

into a teen world of preparedness

all who will flee when time comes

somehow, make their empty pocketed way

to bigger cities, offering the solace of

24 hour misery

surely it beats

sleeping in your childhood cot

listening to your parents snore

inching closer to a local grave plot

they put their heads in bags of glue

just to feel like they are from somewhere else

finding it a marvelous irony

when their frigid mountain town is named

‘best hidden tourist spot’

by those who are also in their own ways

trying to escape

their stifled lot

Tempera

Query feels like a brand though it comes with veil

the doctors say, phantom pain becomes step mother

to fragile veins

first one to freeze come a cold snap

ready for tindering a bristling fire

at noon I want to eat warm eggs from your palm

touch your vermillion paint brush to my own face

feel the render of tempera against parchment

without any contempt for you, I wish you gone

but ink dries fast in the cold, it’s a myth it takes a warm day

to run a bath and slit your wrists

they never ask why, only how

the fire trucks blink like fallen damsons on melting streets

it was your enemy knocked on the door, broke it down, carried you out

not laughing at your slack form, the way your hair when wet

thins into dismal life line

the bequeath of surprise leaves us wordless

I with my bandages, you with your newly found soul

the sweetness of sharing this clementine center almost makes us forget our mutual hatred

to burn in respective votive, prayed to by sinners, also cherishing the role of loathing

dying is a slow storm, coming in squall, lost to its own menace

we leave the phone off the hook and become masks affixed to unpainted wall

maybe the next inhabitants will lift them gently from their nail

and remark before painting

that they left no shadow

How’s it taste?

In the olden days

they mined towns for their ore

like men drank youth from the

neck of local girls

until everything became brittle

time fled ahead

to something unrecognizable and sour

then we looked up from our tasks

seeing a familiar chink of light in day

years falling away, yellowed pages

surprising us with how many

collected at our feet

how could, all this time have gathered, and

dust in our hair, as we sat, hunched over

our endeavors like hungering cats

without respite?

Without children, our marking

of the passages of life, mislaid somewhere

a half mended cardigan

no longer fitting right

we skipped from pursuit to distraction

thinking it possible to always return

to that hour we woke

our heads wet with the burnished zeal

of awareness

now, now we have slept

without knowing our slumbering

the turn of years into decades

our prodigious output, a heavy weight

on the bare necked sap of youth

staring into the mirror seeing lines

that have crept unbidden in afterglow

like thieves, we still believe ourselves

that youth

with shiny hair and bright intentions

where have they found themselves? Lost

among conifer trees, flitting in and out

like an optical illusion, solitary birch

burying fears of

going blind and birthing cancers

instead of placentas beneath the mother tree

stifling truth

for one of ‘maturity’ and ‘reliability’

ironed sleek on fists of thawed rebuke

though every night as indigo infuses sky

there remains a longing with the starlings to scream

fermenting anguish out into the humus

where nobody, save the desolate lost

might respond to entreaty

and return, by pull of thread

tug of color through dark

that vital spirit cherished

when all else went to rot

amidst the berserker of youth

thirsting on its short straw

determined to drink it all

before we, parched and fragile

in garnishment, got to share

a little of life, just a glance

backward to the days spent dancing

lost in sound, the writhe of

bodies about, surging in a sea

of shared rebuke

of this cold world

where water in the morning on your face

scolds

your vast, lovely, unspoken

dreams

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.