Felis catus

I didn’t care as much as the blood on the snow implied

it was after all just a horror show

you, with your nimble ways of

poking holes in my armor

you, with your kind smile and sharp knife

twisting screw

letting good drain out with bad

till meaning held no color.

I didn’t blame you at first

it’s a fact … some bite

they are taught to by pain

it’s a refuge, a coping mechanism, a

twist and writhe in slim net

of sanity and pathology

that’s all they know

the feral in their fur

if you try to be kind

they will purr

then go ahead and bite you.

I took my bleeding hand

stuck it in my mouth

to prevent saying the things I wanted to

Then I remembered all the little ways

you’d been before, the bare indifference

how I’d tried. Why had I kept on trying?

What possesses us to be kind

to broken things whose disapointment

in themselves turns to savagery?

At least it gave you an opportunity

to use that tenderness against me

I did feel a fool until I realized, yeah …

maybe you were my enemy all along

in that slow icing way you left me feeling emptied

which may say something about me

and how I should learn to try less

I’m sure you’d say; “nobody else can make you feel bad

without giving your permission.”

But I think I will disagree

that’s a passive-aggressive crock … Psych101

it’s your fault … no one else’s

with your holier-than-thou certainty

convinced you’re above us all

I walked away from the snow and the blood

a little cross at myself for not remembering

you can’t hand feed

wild cats.

Le repas

The way she cleans

puts away the day

into lopsided drawers that do not shut

well even on easy days

their contents lost in shuffle and exploit

planes over head, mornful drone, a whine

of grief as they attain height

her hands chapped from slapping herself

back to life

rivets run like zippers down her nails

a light somewhere is extinquished

another turned on, sudden furnace, shadows

vanquished, she has not drunk

all day, for the trembling in her hands

betrays the wait.

Dusk smears sky, oranges hang like

tired bosoms pressed in a woman’s dress

amidst plump leaves, blue-black birds

caw their hunger into the cavernous pitch, cats

with arched tails, disappear potently, eternally

her ankles swell with want, her thyroid

a box of treasure, alight with waiting in chocolate dusk

she dozes in her reverie, business put away

the calm of darkening, a hot bath scalding

dry air with its promise, oils filling her nostrils

pungent and wistful, infusion of sorrow

she remembers when

they lay together without fault

or breakage

the outline of their union

a mandala, with complicated lines leading back to circles

drawn in henna, indigo, cheap car paint, permanent in bare footed sprint

poured into a tattoo gun in the wild hinterlands of Canada

stabbed in little sticcatto for her eternal, sea sick

pleasure.

She lay then, thinking of

burning up

like fireworks

set alight to bloom and bloom till dry of pollen

in empty skies void of furtherment

she wanted to melt

the snow as she walked back

alone and hurting, wounded by her own loathing

a cigarette in her mouth

pressed against clenched, chipped teeth

and you? You were far off like winking lights in sea storm

and you were so far then… gone
without being gone

As is so much of life. Waiting. Closing curtains. Wrapping away disappointed hours

to bed, to claim, to screaming beneath wedged pillows

till the thankless clock in the downstairs anteroom chimes not

and without putting our heads in the oven even once

we are done
Done
Done.

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.

You, she’ll outlast

The lights stay on

After you and I are done

Time swept into ashen memories

Look like roses left to dry til brittle causes dissolution

Doesn’t someone need to notice? As we all march along? What is lost? Left behind?

If dying is an art

Dancing away from you, not giving a damn

The hurt becomes a scar you can peel and discard if you practice hard

I let you go

And the lights stay on like we’re still together

Blazing down on young shoulders, like opened heavens

I’m driving in the opposite direction, bare foot on accelerator

You lied and I discovered the root of evil
Is trusting the wrong one

A creature of the fall, your meal is honesty, you need no desert

Swallow whole the lesson, make it last

I stepped out from behind the curtain where I always hid

Hating myself, the voices attesting, no worth in living

And dusting off years of disregard and absence

I unfurled the wings you never knew I possessed

How did you think I made it this long otherwise?

I said, taking my first step into air

This girl held on long after all was done, hoping against hope

She turns this part of her that cannot give up, toward the light

It is true, what doesn’t kill, makes you stronger or savage or capable of survival

Your lack of love all these years no longer wounds as deep

I use the pain I had, to lend me flight

It’s never too late until the last time

Living doesn’t have to be a tragedy or emptiness

She’s found her wings and intends to go high

Where the sound you make when you self destruct, is easy to stifle

Only the stillness of her soul, free at last

She may be fragile, but you, she’ll out last.

She told me, don’t worry about it

We’re sitting talking about how we know

You’re making me laugh at jokes, about Hannibal

How I only like Gillian, because she’s a bit like you

And I can’t tell anyone, including you

You reminded me how I knew, I was still alive

In the video of you dancing, uncaring and wild

That’s how I’m reminded why

I know beauty

How women

Are the possessors of

All that is beautiful

With your downcast eyes, the color of absinthe

Hair falling in your pale face, cut cheekbones and grace

The switch of your merciless, marching intelligence

The sorrow, the humor, the passion lines

How you make me laugh hysterically and blush

Pouting, pulling on your cigarette, getting me aroused and nervous

Without trying, you command all attention

Your wit is sharper than a sword

When you didn’t talk to me

It was like a blonde flower, turning her lights out

The night was darker

Still I heard

That song you made immortal

The sway of your slim hips and secret smile

And I’m speaking to you in a language, I outlawed

Because he dirtied it for me, forever

But you sound so lovely talking in the fog

I know I have to stand at a distance, or I’d reach out

Grab the concentration from your lovely brow

But to be in your blazing aura

The tiny, angry, intelligent, firey soul

You inhabit like no other

You were the girl who woke me up

I’d give anything to dance with you

To that exact song, in those same clothes

Your then blonde hair, a chaotic wisp

The crunched concentration on your francophone face

There’s classic and there’s disheveled-perfect and you’re both

I’d take your hand and say

Don’t worry, I know the rules

But for fucks sake we’ve both been here long enough

born the same year

You got the small chest I always wanted

And you said you liked my eyes

Same color green as yours

Not narcissism

But sisters

Lovers of

Pain and hard living

We only trust those like us

Who smoked and drank and have to show on our tired faces, the weariness of living

Where boundaries are never crossed

But fantasy is free and inked

And you like being adored

I am good at loving

Sad, happy, gorgeous girls, with crooked smiles

Who hold my attention with their spark

Catching in the darkness like a skinned rock, thrown out to sea

On Brighton beach

Where we’ll always be young and beautiful

Me chasing you in the cold sea

You disappearing into green waves

Step outside

The doctor

who is 47 and wears a baseball cap

she doesn’t look her age, even her hands are unlined

but she knows her stuff, telling me, it’s a virus

got into you, maybe by the loosest thread and working its way up

attacked your spleen like, a well placed fist will split even hard skin

opening up secrets, spilling them like spaghetti squash, reveals its jewel

thumbing through test results, her eyes raised imperceptably

we both joked at the irony of finding a virus, good news

by then I had, a long list of debtors, thinner wrists, curled with many knots, my mouth was parched from staying open

who knew I’d learned so well, the art of begging and beseachment

and the phone, if it were not disconnected, would not have rung because I’d found out 

those who stand in faded ink on birth certificate, are not interested in, the lurch of misfortune

you see, some people, they need warm weather, even in Wintertime

and cannot abide, a cold chill or sudden snap

and I, poor dear, had quite broken my luck on the roulette table, as it spun

a soft sound much like the running of a bath

my turn to fall

their turn to turn, face away, pretending, such misfortune doesn’t happen

they are acrobats of self-deception

I don’t condemn it

it gives me the outline of which to begin, a new family tree

it will not have many branches, perhaps will look deformed

but as the arroyo dries in hot Summer, lines leave scores in red earth, pointing a way for journiers

and there are people who come

from almost nowhere

bringing solace

like a well tended light, burning from animal oil

keeps alive, that creature within us

needing, oh so needing

I touched them, with burning fingers and blistered lips

I couldn’t form the words to say, how much it meant

walking in their step and how

the measure of their coming lifted me

from a place i’d never been nor wished to return 

emptiness is not, an acquired taste

the doctor, she can attest to that

I see grief in her stride and hope in the words she feeds me

as we create over the loom, something resembling a coat

to wear when the weather gets cold

and you have to step outside