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.

Only child

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I’m sitting in a linoleum room with ghosts, specters and occasional stranger

a girl with long legs like a foal, is pulling elastic pink lines of gum from her full mouth

and snapping them back, loudly

I wonder if I have ever sat so evenly in a chair, if I ever had peach hair, light on my skin like that

it reminds me of my friend who competed in gymkhanas, we made up our own horses, hers was called Mars and mine, BeTwix and we ran

so fast our hearts thundered up her grandmother’s hill in the La Roque-Gageac

her legs were like those of a foal,  even at eleven, the waiters watched her with wet lips

I think of The Object Of Beauty, how Liv Tyler gleamed, coming out of the oval swimming pool

What men must think when underage girls begin to fruit.

My ghosts routinely tell me, I am without worth, they remind me if I had anything worth having

my mother wouldn’t be absent

a life time of inadequacy, wouldn’t be my legacy

I disappoint myself, not just the ghosts, sometimes I think

I don’t belong in this American world, where women are proud to work sixty hour weeks and go the gym at 9pm

still feeling they haven’t worked hard enough.

I think I am forever running in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine, with my imaginary horse

watching a girl turn into a woman, aware of too much even then, and not enough

the specters mock my lack of confidence, whispering in my detached earlobe

nobody likes a wuss, confidence is the American calling card, haven’t you noticed?

Even silly people and indifferent people get somewhere, if they believe in their

silly people and indifferent selves. And brilliant people, who doubt, will fester

like a ring someone lost in a river, glitters too deeply for marbled birds to

pluck it out and restore to light.

I lost a ring once, you’d given it to me when we were 14 and I didn’t have coltish legs

or peach fuss on my skin, but rather, the strong bones of a kid who drank milk with her cereal and got a stomach ache

reading Asterix at the pine breakfast table, with her stuffed toys.

I can still hear the plastic clock and hum of the washing machine

a warm symphony of my childhood, as I delayed leaving for school

and the inevitable crush of humanity, I had long decided was not for me

in fact, my trajectory was so far from that world of push and pull

competition and attention, fan fare and nose-pick small talk

I inhabited the after school hours like an addict of one

rejoicing in the quiet and empty spaces where

my mind could roam and gallop

sometimes I would sit on the roof tops of outdoor storage buidings

eating my soggy paper bag of sweets, stuck together from being

crunched in my pocket, head stuck in a book about

beautiful places with kind people and fantastic things

wild roses growing like thoughts from arching cracks

in concrete, their soft heads and sharp thorns

not the decapitated baby bird, I buried beneath the acorn tree

its silvered blind eyes, swollen and bulging

wings pressed like cries of regret for having never spread

in flight

something horrifying in everywhere you looked

like the terror you feel when you realize you are truly alone.

That kitchen clock would change day and month

but never really the precision of its emptiness

I learned it is better, to rely upon fantasy and avoidance

than the pinch and grope of society.

Often, a stranger would ask

why are you playing outside so late?

I would run away into the eclipsing shadows

behind the corrugated iron fences that separated

the good neighborhood from the skeletons

those bombed, bleached, bones of former homes

where a kid of twenty years ago had lain

watching paper airplanes cycle

above their head, clutching something with glass eyes

and faux fur, as I still did

funny, to find some comfort in the inanimate manufacture

of nature

my toys looked at me in the darkness and spoke

words of love, I needed to consume

their salty fur held

the cups of my early disenchantment

when teachers commented on my red eyes

I said; hay-fever and they believed me

because I wore a dragon tail

this was surely an adjusted child

with avid imagination

cantering alongside her friend

with the honey colored hair and long bare arms

absorbing sun like a shining fruit

I knew then how different I was

how quiet pain, how loud silence

my mother always looked so beautiful in

floral dresses with her trim ankles and long neck

I, the stranger behind her

admiring and shameful in her artlessness.

it was among the lost in forest, I claimed my place

when first love failed, when promises became

paper envelopes containing no letter

dishing out school diner and homework

leaving my scuffed shoes at the door

I climb

into the ivy

away from the party

a reflection I see of myself

gathering stillness like a blanket

she is fetching her best smile

for the emptiness of years

staring into emulous clouds, watching

for signs and miracles and unspent words

the sound of others laughter

rinsing through tall green shadows

like echoes of

someone else’s life

 

 

Just when she thought she was complying, she raged and broke apart

Things at a distance …

The child learns

Not to burn herself on cooker top

Not to hold someone to their word

People don’t always return

Love

Things learned at a distance

Words do not describe reality

Reality is not as they say

Life is funny and tastes of rain

One moment it flows then everything stops

Changes course

And you

Child

Sometimes you are forgotten

For adults

Don’t always recall

The necessity of keeping their word

 

And that child

Grew with restraint and without rule

Clad in scraps of query and uncertainty

Unobserved, she learned not to learn

She didn’t sharpen her pencil and master how to take orders

Her mind they thought gifted but her’s was just a glib mouth with fast words

Sounding beneath the press of water, betraying its weight

Underneath she had no end to her dislike of being told what to do

And they told her

You’ll regret the way you are

Discipline helps breed patience

Patience is honed a virtue

She had none

Never learning her multiplication tables or grammar

She slipped as she ran

Away from the rod

He’d hit her you see, too much, and caused a break

Until she didn’t know how to mend her cracks

Only fury lay

Between her fingers spread against the sun

Silly frivolous fury, the kind girls are mocked for

Usually they are scolded, Child don’t you know? Real suffering exists! True pain! And you have so much and you dare say you are discontent?

Even the shame of knowing on the outside she was a white parody of excess and indulgence

With her predictable dysfunctions all signs of a weakness of spirit

Delving into emptying with hands tied by nurture and the unbearable shake of seeing

If you just got up every morning and jogged, if you just put that cigarette down

You save yourself you know

Of course she knew and like a woman weighted with stones she wanted to walk deeper into the water because every scratch of her fabric was flawed

Why did you let me be born?

Why not give my time to a marvelous well-adjusted mind who will study science and never play hooky?

She played it all the time and had nothing to prove nor music within her movement

No piano to learn

As long as someone

Who wanted to learn

Would

 

And she

Wished to walk in olive groves hurting her bare feet with dry shrub

As the Corfu sun burned her scratched arms

Creating ugly stains for how she felt inside

Marks of time mottling her skin

Brands of all the times she tried not to be

Herself

And invariably

Returning to the mirror time and again, a looking-glass behind her eyes

There was her father’s jaw and elongated forehead

His thin red weathered skin tried by the hour

When they found out some DNA was stronger and certain people were genetically likely to outlast others

She laughed

Because she’d known that for years

You only had to taste the quality of their time

and in the future

They ran dry like a Texan Arroyo long baked by merciless sun

 

Her father once said

You reap what you sew

and she has thrown herself into air

With no seeds and no design

Just the bare howl of being aware

Knowing the grief she was ashamed and compelled by

Ticking in her imperfect hiccup of a soul

Unable to avoid the error of her need

To rebel against the majority who never seem to mind

But plod perfectly in time to some hidden chant

While she spun, losing ground, hurting and grasping

Never ready to fit herself into a shape commensurate with moving forward

If there were an edge to the world she’d be the one to push herself

Off

Taking my time to die

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I pretend you are there

when the world shows its cold belly

when loved ones become enemy

I reach for your solace in need

forgetful when happy, without equal reason

ill prepared for falling we climb as Icarus, nearer to sun

without parachutes too often startled into early grave

those who do not command their outcome

I believed you when you said I am safe within your arms

this world of ours inviolate

but they were just words

like this is just water mixed with blood and wine

spotting the clean sheets in which I lie

taking my time to die

now that I am alone

just one more soul who cannot

bear the taste of this world without

you