The Lesson

Many friends of mine are highly intelligent.

they talk of having to ‘hide’ their intelligence as children, to avoid scaring others

I did not fit in either, but for much different reasons

a contradiction, most who spoke to me believed me to be very bright

but the lore of the highly verbal is just that. An ability to talk circles around people

sometimes the brain is empty behind the Rocky Horror Picture Show mouth.

Unlike my very smart friends, who excelled and won prizes

and knew uncannily how to do things before being taught, even welding, and that was

hard

unlike my first boyfriend who made all A’s whilst watching The Incredible Hulk

unlike my second boyfriend who made all A’s whilst masturbating to Farrah Fawcett

the only way I was ever on top was if I climbed, brick by brick.

I learned early on, not to compete

why would you compete if you NEVER win? If you’re always the slow poke, the last picked on a team, the one who has to ask again and again, the friend who can’t

get the gist of it and stays home reading comics.

Usually the most competitive are those who are naturally good at something and thus, recognize the taste of success

I learned slowly and badly, I couldn’t; knit, use chopsticks, play Atari well, do wheelies, skateboard or boogieboard, or vault over the box without

often falling

I had more ‘not good at that’ checked boxes than ‘excels’ and that never changed.

Some say, if you fail, keep trying, but eventually, if you fail enough sometimes you turn into

something else

a kid who is angry for other reasons too and has found a home in building that anger into a straw man

a kid who is fed up of coming last, of repeated failures and shame in sometimes still wetting the bed

being told you are an idiot over and over again tends to sink in

so I became a rebel.

If someone said; You failed that. I would laugh. Literally take joy in it.

FUCK YOU I would shout and run to the park and drink from whatever bottle was handy or climb whatever tree was nearest

I learned, you could get more positive attention from dancing and putting your hands down boys pants than

making an effort to fail.

Part of me knew it was wrong, I didn’t like boys, so why was I spending any time with them?

They didn’t like me over much either, I was; too short, too flat chested, not enough flippin enthusiasm

damn right.

Then I belonged nowhere

except under the hot lights of the dance floor, shaking out my grief or in a tree house pretending I was anyone but me

I ran so many times away from pain / I began to know the tune and hum it

in a weak moment I would return and feel-up a boy

for 3 minutes of false love

and in that wet, sticky repulsion

hate myself ever more.

sometimes even the child falling off the deep-end can see it coming

but nobody else could; they thought I was just badly behaved / didn’t ask why / didn’t try to intervene

I crashed and burned on the rocks multiple times, like a bad sky diving bird searching for her nest

wanting in one moment to excel, the next to set fire to

everything that rubbed my nose in it.

I absorbed failure like a nicotine patch

I inhaled it like cheap speed on a dirty toilet seat

when I lifted my legs to the ceiling and turned my head away

from the thrashing

the fuck you’s sounded really hollow

drugs weren’t enough to sake

my premature emptiness.

Of course, people are over-fond of

blaming the victim and saying; ‘you have choices’

which is partially true and partially bullshit, as we all know

deep down

it takes a village

or maybe just one person

to lift you to the light and when you’re 14

and saturated in pain without knife sharp enough

to exorcise darkness

it’s hard to grab on and ask someone to intervene.

When you came into my life

my first love, the one I lost everything to

including my shadows and a little cocktail sliver of self-hate

I didn’t know then, what an impact you would make

meteorite girl

I lost my virginity in your hands and

forgot the ammonia of boys and how they’d beg

to go all the way and almost want to pay you if they had

more than a penny and dirty underwear on offer

leaving you feeling worthless and slutty and defiled and violated even if

you kissed while crossing your own legs the entire time.

In your arms I realized my own skin, the honey softness

of your touch, a new language.

You were, the girlfriend of my best friend

you loved him, you loved me (on weekends when he was away)

I was your little secret and you stripped me one by one

of all my petty rebellions

until I stood before you naked and shivering

telling me; Get your shit together, because nobody

is going to do it for you and you don’t want to be

working in High Street Stores at 40 nor do you

want to squander all your talent on

cheap cider and horny empty-eyed souls.

I laughed then, I remember it, day losing light

your face looked older, wiser, molded by shadow

I wanted to press myself to your breasts and find

that special sound you made when I delved deeper.

But you took my chin and forced me to meet your eyes

a deep blue like the bottom of my grandmother’s swimming

pool where I learned to drown

It isn’t fair, you said, it isn’t right, and it isn’t your fault

but it is your responsibility

defy them. Even if you can’t beat them, even if you can’t

ever be as good as them, defy their expectations of you

make something of yourself anyway, and for those who

things come easy, realize you are twice as strong

for matching their ease with your effort.

I admired you more than anyone I’d ever met

not just for the shape of your curls and the way you stood

short and yet louder than anyone in the room

I admired your tenacity and how you had a really dumb side

that you could laugh at and we’d sit in your friends bar

underage (me) barely old enough (you) and I could

never get enough of watching your lips move and wishing

they could be pressed against mine til eternity.

When you left me for the boyfriend you always knew you’d keep

because I was a phase in your life and you were my everything

I didn’t hate you for it. I felt the terrible absence of your

hand in mine and how life without you was colorless and

drab like someone had sucked out all the joy and left only

skeletons of memory.

But I was young, I picked myself up and tried again

the first time in years, putting aside my acting out and anger

the rebellions, resentment at having so many

impediments and not being one of the golden ones for whom

everything came naturally.

I worked so hard I ended up succeeding, but that success

never made me happy the way you hoped it would.

I still felt a fraud

I still knew, if I didn’t work twice as hard as everyone else I would never

be their equal

I knew deep down my short-comings were

who I really was and that being ordinary is never something we aspire to.

It did feel good to fight back

against things people liked to say in cruel moments

about how I would never amount to anything, how I wasn’t half

the intelligent person they’d thought I’d grow up to be

I proved them wrong.

I did not gain confidence in myself because I knew the truth

sometimes you can tap dance so fast, people start to believe

the tune you are humming, but it’s just a magic trick

and you’re as ordinary and bog-standard as

chips in newspaper and clothes on a line.

Did I want to be remarkable? Special? Unique? Gifted?

Hell yeah.

Accepting that you’re ordinary, especially when you were never told

you mattered

is absolutely ego crushing

but I remembered how you laughed at yourself

and didn’t let it stop you

how you might have felt the fear and done it anyway

I took an incomplete leaf out of your book

one that I keep til this day, pressed against my bosom

remembering that people come into your life for a reason

sometimes that’s why they have to leave

for the lesson is rarely learned

without loss.

Moonshine

(inspired by finding an old photograph of a fancy-dress party I attended at University that I hadn’t seen in years)

One of them is me

but which holds the key? Later perhaps we

shall know our fruiting journey through

maze of youth

and slow pull of stocking

for kind of touch best found

in satiny afternoon glow

outside I hear my dim-eyed neighbor

mowing lawns until he aches silver

because his wife has turned away

nobody touches him anymore with

the dreams of yesteryear

so we sprint toward each

invisible finish line

with emptiness in our hearts

filled with busy distraction

nothing lasting, nothing to

endure or sate cold claim

of climbing into bed

unwanted or alone

the feel of darkness, our shroud

from terrible disappointment

and then

then I had it all and didn’t know

standing on the precipice

we laughed at our indomitable

facility to thrive

not yet diseased

not yet rawboned with stretch marks

nipping their silver lines like unwanted lace

or sagging pieces shaking to no

good beat

not yet diminished on shallow waxen wheel

of male adoration

though for me this was never

a piece I wished to carve for myself

it was the love of a woman I craved

like first drink from fountain

on a hot day with no clouds in sight

languorously we exult

in

crocheted certainty, time will stand still

make for ourselves exceptions and grand entrance

the labor of hope so easy and lubricated

then

we’ll never be shaken off

like a dull wet thing

nor left to gather dust

as something once favored

we are surely, gleaming warm heads

of our own personal state

if I could have heard the warning

should I have been able

to listen?

likely not for

day is long and hour far

we take lovers for bread and jam

hate yet a curiosity

our parents live robust

we can yet still, the freedom to

go home

there are structures protecting

the hollow timber of our hearts

from these days what we can we learn?

as growing up and away

truth becomes stretched and gray

friends falling away

the bounty of never-never coming to claim

her inevitable duality

delight in youth, for contrast is cruel

all should have its value

but we are flippant with our boon

and when the cold night comes

we usher ourselves to greater darkness

in the strangeness of change

not able to see what is portent

nor later

the freedom

released from expectation

to unfold our wings

take flight

no more a shining thing

but something effervescent

and filled with

light

casting its thrall

as long ago, diving for pearls

we claimed the moon

The fear of others, becomes the dismissal

Long before now

there was a time I did not write

could not write, would not write

I danced, I moved, I climbed, I painted

with our heads together like arrows, friends and I

toy rabbits, ladybugs, a glow in the dark star

would entertain ourselves with crayons and pastels

plasticine and Lego, wooden blocks, old socks, foil and glue

I built fortresses in the woods near my grandmothers

house where she looked out occasionally, a glass in one hand

erected camps in trees fallen in the storms

or beneath protesting furniture that wasn’t meant to be moved

turning into a gypsy tent, bedding, blankets, string

anything the imagination could seize and shake out into magic

I did not write

even then I felt

words were just words

so glib and easy

words like; ‘have a good birthday’ from

people staying absent

words like; ‘you know I care’ from

people not caring

I couldn’t spell, so I didn’t reply

I didn’t enunciate, so I didn’t call them back

the phone would ring in the distance, mournfully

if it got too loud, I turned the music up

all this by the age of ten

I was free of words, they were not my language

a song and the movement it encouraged was

an elongation of expression and urges

and later, a dance club, even at 14, seemed safer

than three sheets of echoing, empty paper

rubbing shoulders with strangers who sought like me

to raise their arms through the strobe lights in search

of something missing

not seeking drugs or sex but the fury and beauty

of dancing away their sadness

I didn’t know it then

acting upon instinct

the instinct to run, when you cry

dance when you want to jump

push away those who clamor for attention

stop feeling the pain you do, every single day

whilst some of my friends who were depressed

listened to The Cure and other sorrowful LPs

I scorned anything sad and

stepped into the light of disco, rock, electronica

in time I found there were other things you could do

to turn off the hurt

and I did them ALL, every damn one

There is an honesty to admitting to yourself

I don’t know what’s been happening, but I’m in pain

everything I should rely upon has gone or never been

I am alone and I am scared, I haven’t yet grown up

nobody will help me so I have to help myself but

I don’t know how

I learned it felt good to lie in bed with someone

even if they were nothing more than warmth and key strokes

I learned it felt good to give rather than receive

because you protected those parts of you, rarely revealed or wanted

I learned drugs were not a menace but a street form

of antidepressant for kids who couldn’t tell their hurt

didn’t know where to begin or how to heal the

emptiness and anger growing in their bones

I learned if you are crushed badly enough, time and again

you grow a skin of fur and you become a feral creature

not human anymore

but living for the night, pulse of music playing

brief flicker of excitement, when you forget being yourself and all that comes with that

the disappointment, the heartache, the rejection

you’re just a shivering wretch, gaining admittance into forbidden light

you’re just a body that can move and shake and vibrate

beneath the waves as they engulf the roar and scream

every morning I swam 25 laps

every night I ran in heels for the bus

every stroke of midnight I transformed into anyone but myself

it felt good, it felt more real than trying to

inherit the mantle of despair and unwanted closing walls

I climbed out and didn’t go back

I never wrote down a word

not even when I received

another letter stating things that were never real

words were lies, words were lies

I’ve always been drawn to truth

Somewhere in those years, something changed

maybe you get lazy, maybe you forget your way

or the pain becomes something you think is who you are

or the hurt is a coat you wear without knowing you do

I stopped swimming in the mornings

I quit dancing in the evenings

in my blood lay a virus of dormancy and despair

it grew and grew like a wild flower teasing out of concrete

until I’d forgotten my way through the elaborate maze

I was just another lab rat, waiting to live their life, turn to ash and regret

Now the irony is, I’m writing all the time

I write how I feel, I write how you feel, I write out

the hollow cries kicking from inside out

but words are fickle, they are not your friend

words convey what you mean, and equally they contradict

words don’t get things done

words are on pages, often unread

If it would work I’d burn my thoughts

watch them light up the night on the 5th of November

put on my running shoes

go to you

take you by the shoulders and shake

all my words out of your head

run with you down the highway

find the place we can be in my mind

get on the dance floor, pull you with me

try another communication

another way of getting through

anything but the languages that leave us empty

mistrustful, doubtful, not waiting for more

we’ve both been there before

at the end of a letter

shaking our heads

for all that was done, versus said

is often quite the opposite

you tell me, if I knew you, I would not like

the person I came to know

but you are wrong, so very wrong

it is in the imperfect there is wonder

I’m used to people backing off, going cold, erecting walls

it’s what I experienced every day

the fear of others, becomes the dismissal

there is another way

let me show you

but not like this

let me show you

in between words

with every gesture of my soul

give me this

Wrung

I didn’t trust myself to hold on

when water breached and ice tore, sun burned, voices howled

when corridor echoed with the corrosion of a moment

elegantly stretched like garter made of guts, long and silent in worship

yet, there was no stone God to touch, lay our cheeks upon, in salvage, sweeten terror underfoot

nothing left to run together, keep us from the tear in our fabric, rescuing us afloat, over glacier, over sky, over each other and that blemish of life we call, survival

a call of the wild, a girl returning her party dress unworn, with dormant masks of fierce, loose in their bouquet

she’s tired now, of standing in doorways, blending in

she’s been leaning against herself so long, doves catch wind and pursing straight as falling sky mark the way

as a child may confidently point, before he is taught of error, a certitude of birth we lose, in continued correction

but what of the spirit? Wishing never to bend, as hazel makes a good switch and all sting redeems

what of the spring mad hare? Made jubilant despite his age, as pollen of the glory dusts his dance, does he unlearn?

those reprimanded, unwinding in backward spool, the yarn of time, loosens our punching collar and sore confine

pugilistic, we devolve to fetus and climb inside our charm. Wrung with the arms of tomorrow, the depth of spirit knows no ceasement

Once, twice, again, you cannot keep movement still, it begs for the last dance

choose then, remove your wild jig and join the machinists at their task to embroider the world, not with honesty but the pasty aftermath of souls behind glass, mouthing their marching song

or inherit the wind and best the exiled dream, misplacing sense in unchecked delight

There is no limit to what we are. Such is distance and teeming for years shaken, behind a well set trifle, awaiting the party-goer, cold on her white shelf

But touch once, and she’ll melt, with the longing of her frosting