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.

Weigh Scale

Do you hear it?

Relief sounds like

a girl’s slip

a bird’s wing

your eye lashes fluttering

against your blushing cheek

Do you hear it?

Suffering sounds like

cloth pulled by stick across dirt floor

chalk pressed violent into board

fingers opening blouses raggedly

your chest bone protrudes

more than the year before

Do you hear it?

Truth or dare

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you

about the real me

she’s not happy with her subtefuge

it cost her heavily

the weight of deception has always

sat like curdled cream in a bowl

waiting to be thrown away

or consumed and in so doing

poison truth from her hiding place

she’d be forthright if

it didn’t cost more

than she had in her purse

purchased inexpensively

in a local artisan’s market

that closed years ago

when creativity waned

and people hoped their kids

would go to Business School.

Combustion

What does one do in order to feel?

Not the safe kind, sanitized by Clorox wipe

left to garner in sun until just right temperature

palatable and convivial like a well heeled aunt.

No, I mean the bloody kind

coming at night, knocking your flippin socks off

just as you got used to living in a box, neat beige walls

knowing how you felt because you didn’t let it out

to crawl around and get dirty, muddy, sodden, feral

where feelings elongate into shadows and back again

tripping us up, as we shuffle to the bathroom for midnight piss.

Those feelings, the ones hammering your heart shut

as you open windows in the morning, anguish

and agonies unnamed, pour out into sore tongued dawn

you can’t even speak it, you can’t get the lump to dislodge

from your tightening throat, it’s like a scream has purchased

hooks and they’re pulling them out, fileting your senses.

The sheer ravage of it

makes you want to turn and run like a red gash

except … it’s everywhere, in your pores, your veins, the very

sentence structure of survival

how you make eye contact, which hand you use

to wipe yourself

feelings lie in the hems of your dress, the arch of your shoes

they crawl up your inner thighs and birth your secrets

with wild fingers and loose tongues

spilling afterbirth like unwanted punctuation.

For all your running in place, you’re growing tired

the careful structure of denial, unknitting itself

in a parody of lovemaking you come undone

till one day sitting at a coffee shop

someone asks you if you have the time

and it reminds you

suddenly, a cut the length of a sword

nobody asks the time anymore

and you begin to scream

rooms emptying

people looking backward

at the woman who

unfolds her horror

like a thin Japanese fan

to keep herself

from combusting.

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)

Below zero

Snow I have always

been thankful for your expunging

whiteout

how you take dirt

and suffocate it

beneath insistent layers

the wild and untame methods of your

settling, blown like befuddled

birds in all direction, swirling in

lost echo, falling eventually to

sugar-coat the dim world brighter

as pipes fail, their fragile egg shells

bloated with trapped water

a parallel I think

to our own shuttered lives

When I was a child I would

be told

do not go out in the snow for long

you will catch your death

and I hoped

very much

that were true

for to sleep

a red rose in bosom of white

I could fancy in my child’s mind

no greater perishment

though fancy and its

myriad ways of suggesting

death

grow less appealing

the older we get

Now I avoid slipping on ice

for fear of crushing my elbow into

shards like my father did

I see in the distance

my grandmother’s dog

he is trying to eat snow flakes

and puzzled when they melt

barks into whiskering storm

I think he speaks for us all

in this grand illusion

half wanting to be

taken off by encompassing whorls

carried to ice palace

where surely the meaning of

everything can be found

along with my mittens I lost

in tenth grade

stooping down to place

the cherry in

my snow robins

breast

blue black hours

you exhaust me

with your perpetual need

you who is I, I who is me

this hungering for solace

rubbed like frankincense

on pulse points

used to be said, a woman’s evocation

was found in the thread of her blood

tasting her, found, a salt and an admonishment

for knowing mystery is not permitted

you exhaust me

with your perpetual need

you who is I, I who is me

attempting free fall, finding balance in

tender pretend, the chime and rounding of days

a music without orchestra, still she sings

heal me from the want

expunge that holy desire for more

give me a reflecting glass

that I might climb through

touch my limbs as they break into fire sticks

combusting in torrent, the woman, the girl

the crone

she sits with sun on her face

careless of time

she has put aside her duty

listening instead

to the song of a bird

whose feathers remind her

of blue black hours

Absence bound in absentia

I’m fading, lover

day old bread thrown to wild birds

their wink gleaning

our false rise

lover … I’m fading

in and out

washed by time and exposure

old camera, old film

new development

the blink of an eye and we’re

gathering hats for our funeral

see, there’s a swatch within

me

wild and unfettered

the brush of red in the hedgerow

uncatchable

redolent with longing

to be more than yours

greater than this

dusty shelf

empty bed

absence bound in absentia

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

The ingratitude of the well

Inspired by the incredible Cordelia Feldman and her novel In Bloom, for sale now. For World Cancer Day.

It would be easy to say

I haven’t been stricken because I couldn’t cope with it

there would be no one, I have learned, if I were;

not a flower garden, or brothers with curry, or kind lipsticked nurses

socialized healthcare, or odd private room

there would not be a mom bathing or a dad talking

about vegetable garden and the latest episode of Silent Witness

who could really cope?

Even as I say this, knowing the avocado heart of it

I also know I could be stricken tomorrow, or already

as all of us could

(as all of us could)

and privately in a fat second

(like when you see a train wreck and you process a hundred thoughts all at once)

I know I have my will written (handwritten, badly, not rubber stamped)

ready to mail to fate should it come.

When I got sick, though not C.A.N.C.E.R.S.I.C.K., nevertheless I really planned

taking another way out

in my head, thoughts of how bad it had become, lead to imaginings

of suicide and how savage that is to hear

for someone who is dying and does not want to die

the ingratitude of the well

these thoughts fly around me

like bees unwilling yet to sting

my heart is heavy for her

wondering selfishly what I would do

had I the same burden

praying to an empty sky, for that not to happen

superstitious that even the mere wish not to be sick

evokes it

as if fate were laughing and throwing darts

at fleeing people

so helpless, we sink our teeth into projects

wind up time like a ball of yarn

knit it into shapes we can understand

all while keeping horror at bay

the imagined car crash, the loved one never returning home

a cancer growing inside like a whistle

on a hurtling train

it is easy to not find time for empathy

or to feel, it is too close, too raw, too impossible

to process

most of all I think of her grace

how she can appreciate something like a child might

I think of her humor

how she’s had me folded on the floor laughing at the

sheer fucking brilliance of her

I am proud in ways that hurt

she’s everything I am not and she’s also

deeply human

if one person says ‘I’m sorry for your loss‘ I will

scream; “She’s not gone yet! She’s never

going to be gone, that’s just not how

she rolls. Don’t underestimate her

don’t think you own her anymore

than you own your own life.

Those platitudes are all we sometimes have

we mean them more

than scrolling past someone’s bad news

crossing ourselves, as we step over graves

one day slated to be ours

we side step death like the dancers we are

thinking we’re somehow avoiding

something born before we were

and I focus and think of her

how if I could show her my feelings

they would be in movement, in laughter

in light, spinning like an electric waterfall

like her spinning class, where just for a moment

she is that girl beneath the hot trance lights of

the 90’s and I am dancing along side her

as the earth holds us both, alive

despite any ‘support’ she has

which I am more glad of than anything

though what support does against terror?

I cannot lend a description to

my own failings in the courage department

planning my demise when the first meteorite hit

although I read we use meteorite and meteor and astroid

interchangably

and they are actually very different

with only the burning of the sun

in common to collease

their strength as potential planet killers

my math teacher used to say

a morbid mind will only bring sorrow

of course she was right

in her Laura Ashley dungerees

that would now be worth $300 on Ebay

a funny ole world my grandma prosthelytized

nipping at the ever full box of wine in the kitchen

clipping her rose garden when ABBA wasn’t

sufficient to propel demons

I get it

I really do

there’s only avoidance really

we can’t look into the sun too long

we’ll lose our sight before

we’ve made our way back from the garden

or maybe

we’ll stay, our heads upturned

soaking in the rays

To dearest Cordelia, I adore you.

Please consider purchasing Cordelia’s first novel In Bloom, it is magnificent.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cordelia-feldmans-eight-things-not-to-say-to-someone-with-cancer-p6bvz0xhsts