“There is no activism without despair, no despair without hope. Despair can be as powerful an engine for change as hope.”Finding Hope in Despair — Borderless
When labels were collars around necks
ruffled, feathered, leather, yoke
you were either ‘gay‘ or you weren’t
I was. And I fell for a man.
Boy really. Once. Only time.
Hips smaller than mine, delving into my bones
like cream poured through coffee we burned calcium
our former labels damp at the door.
The value of a woman is in her smell
the rustle of her soul, how gentle and tough
merge together into womanhood
he was none of these
acrid, funny tasting (masculine?) Sinewy arms wrapping around
like a lost bear it didn’t feel ‘right‘ it didn’t feel ‘wrong‘
we were very young, his mind on fire trying to figure out the world
popping little tabs like they could pause time
because God, someone had to.
In Winter’s loose ends, we holed up at his brother’s flat
half-Thai eyes and burnt toast skin, along with the tang of marijuana
it’s hard not to fall for genius’s and sexual beings with magnetism in their lips
we lay in the dark, he emulated a girl and then became a boy
shadows on the wall, male, female, something more
I clung to him through torrent, it didn’t feel ‘wrong‘ it didn’t feel ‘right‘
night stretched out in submission, he loved me being a woman
in ways maybe another woman never has
joined we were, hard to separate, laughter, solace, grief, shards of joy
his body sleek like a girls, hard to accept the difference, I looked away
feeling him move inside me like a word
aching for punctuation.
I felt like a woman, a woman, a woman
contrast, a figure of eight in reflection
kinder than any girl I knew, smarter than any other human
a girl will touch your breasts with knowing, then ask you to find her bra
he brought me gypsy guitar and red wine and sucked until I screamed.
Dancers, we, danced in detail, scratching out labels defining
what this was, who, what?
I didn’t love him, no. Love an underdeveloped muscle
in a closed box, only women and their sharpness can pick
he searched my face, my breasts, my thighs, for signs
of relenting, wanting to bury himself within, become one
stay together, two cusps, why not? Be mine. Marriage
some papered form of devotion. Not ownership, just need.
I wanted to give him a child then, birth it
right there on the futon, beneath moon, hollering; “eat me until
I become glutted on your goodness,” We shook together
a ritual, procession into silvered ore earth’s center
letting go, the child came, bidden, quickening, like opening
your mouth and accepting change, drink me down
between my legs, the writhe of us, male/female/female/male
losing edges, the blurred outline of pretense.
We woke when the light came
to an empty room
nothing left of us to consume
just condom wrapper
unused by the bedside
and life in my belly rounding music
he wore my silver ring
I told him, don’t cut your hair
we walked in opposite directions
he took a bus
I, a train
he never knew I took him too
in my belly, quiet and full.
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
In the dark when you cannot see well
and squint futile
shadows take on recollection
you are, again, that child
wide-eyed and awake in night
seeing monsters configure themselves
at the foot of your bed
climb on in.
Time is definitely female
a circle and not a line
she curves backward
like a hungry snake
devouring her tail
she dives forward
as if she too
Though decades pass
we speak still in the dark
in the voice of a child
surging from within us
bile, relief, sweet, salty, sticky fingers
eating the last of childhood
forbidden to those who
no longer grow upward
only inward, if they are
I have lain in many beds
with lovers, sometimes alone
standing in, for absent friends
memory like a scar, whispers
near and far, recollection a drumbeat
solace in stillness, the cliff you walk to
without seeing its drop.
It always scared me to hear
the sounds of night dance around me
though more than anything I wished
to join in
their unseeing merriment
as if by releasing my fear I could
inhabit a deeper rest.
Wasn’t it a miracle?
Neither of us died trying to get to the meeting place
all the lights in the world seemed out that night
I had only known how to drive a few months
you were an old hat who routinely broke laws
with bottles wedged between your legs, a
cigarette burning ash down your fingers
there had always been a desire in me
for brokenness, as if I recognized in those
souls, something in myself
or a freedom in people who abandoned ettiquette
and discarding it, became suddenly free
I liked the wild, I liked women with untamed eyes
and dirty minds
the moon was full that night and we watched owls
gather themselves in flight and swoop
cloudy restaurant lights flickering in and out on the side
of the empty high way
I had watched films about a life like this
I said to you, films like Gas Food Lodgings or Paris Texas
where the greatest landscape was the tarmac
and the wide abundant merciless sky
where people sheltered in shadow and night creatures
crawled unseen and women met by closed restaurants
the flicker of their 24 hour advertising, sizzling against blackness
you were strange looking as if you had
deliberately tried to destroy yourself and I
forgot to wear shoes, my feet hot against still baked
soil, biting fiends flying in humid air, thick with ‘unspoken
I wanted you to slam me there and then against
the unresisting brake of my car
leaving a bruise the size of texas clouds
I wanted to break apart like rocks with gem stones
inside, find something in both of us
bigger than the sky, deeper than weary darkness
but I was too young then and fear wrapped herself
like a blanket of stars and pulled me back
into the world, into doing what is right, into being careful
and sitting up straight when you eat at the table
all these years later, I still think
if we had set the car on automatic and just ridden
down that empty highway, into hushed, blooming night
we might have found the part of us
every day we wake up
wash our face, comb our hair
and look too long in the mirror
searching for the lost parts
of our dark dreams
Our society worships entirely the wrong animal, venerating them and reducing others to ash.
The news recently devoted a good portion of the sports coverage to how much money certain sports figures were going to be paid for kicking a ball across a field. And this in a time when our jobs are dissolving, our society is being wrecked, our economy may be irrecoverable and certain industries will cease to exist en mass. Put simply, there will not be jobs to come back to folks but apparently we still need to pay these guys billions for their service to humanity?
I cannot understand how ANY society and how any of us can tolerate/accept a sports figure being paid anywhere NEAR that sum for what they do when those who really do jobs worth paying, are dying in droves because they are not receiving enough personal protective gear to protect themselves.
When did we start paying someone to kick a ball millions and a nurse who saves our life, hundreds?
What’s wrong with us?
If I were an alien observing our planet, I would seriously wonder if we all were crazy in our assessment of VALUE. What we value. What we do not. If nothing else, Covid-19 has given us a chance to see this once and for all and try to do something about it.
We have marched for Black Lives Matter during this time because it was over-due and our raw emotions on the subject burst out of their polite shell and filled the streets with ire and a desire for equality but how many of us really want equality? Not all of us that is for sure, look around and you can see it in every facet of life, a desire to be above someone else somehow.
We still routinely under-react and permit by our inaction, serious hideous crimes like rape to go unpunished in this country and others.
It’s the year 2020 and we still think inequality for women is acceptable in some forms and fashion. Let us not forget what Maya Angelou said about wanting to vote for a white woman over a black man. She said – women were the original oppressed group, thus we should work backward until all oppressed parties are equal. I agree with her.
We still think hate crimes against Jews and telling Jews that Israel should not be their country is somehow acceptable, despite those Jews having descended from that country. Would we say the same to Black People about Africa. Of course not! So why do we say it to Israel? Because of the Palestine Question which Europe in particular has decided to side with, uncaring of the history of persecution toward Jews and their right to have some land of their own. Of course we shouldn’t persecute Palestinians either and of course, Israel has made mistakes but it’s now about what optics politicians choose and what side of the story is half-revealed via inaccurate news reporting. It’s essentially about which side looks right to support? Because Trump supports Israel, most left-wing supporters are against it. Yet it is not that simple and never should be. Lest we forget our history.
We still think homosexuality is unnatural and abhorant and that being queer isn’t natural. We don’t say it out loud because it’s not popular to say it, but we think it and we act it and gays know. They know.
We talk about slavery and how horrific it was, but half the time we just pay lip service to the deeper issues, because we don’t know our history so we don’t mention Native Americans and how they were exterminated en mass and continue to be disenfranchised. We’re so proud of ourselves for changing the Red Skins but we think that’s enough. Or how slavery has never really gone away, it’s just changed hands and outfits, but it’s still well and thriving in many forms.
So it’s never enough. Until everyone is equal and inequality and racism are a thing of the past. But will they ever be? With people who seem to thrive on discrimination and putting themselves ahead of others and putting others down? If people think wearing a mask is too much, is it any wonder they really don’t give a shit if you are sick or you are vulnerable? Don’t they just want you to die and bugger off?
Likewise with illness, with chronically sick people, it’s never enough to just have laws that allow them to not be discriminated against because discrimination comes in a myriad of differing forms. Subtle. Unreachable. Devastating. People of color have to put up with this EVERY SINGLE DAY as do women, as do gays, as do sick people. Just one roll of the eye says everything. Says; ‘we think you are pathetic‘ invalidates an entire moment.
Chronic illness is a little like amputation. Obviously anyone who has suffered an amputation will refute this and rightly so. But metaphorically it remains akin to the loss of a limb. You are left flailing, unsure of how to right yourself, and continue as once you were. A part of you is lost.
They talk of periods of adjustment. The stages of grieving: Anger for what you have lost. Shame imposed by a society who now judges you weak. Acceptance of a ‘new normal’ that includes intolerable things such as chronic pain etc. For many, those stages of grieving never really end, they cycle and you go through different dilutions depending upon how you progress.
But progress is perhaps not the right word. In our linear society where so much is expected. For someone to drop off and no longer thrive, in nature they would be left behind to perish. In our society they are carried along but reminded frequently, of their burden, of their ineptitude.
For many who suffer mental illness, physical illness, both, there is a lot of shame attached to their existing after this fact. Even as people do not come out and say it directly (and believe me, many do!) there is a thin veil that is easily penetrable. People know when they are treated differently, seen differently, worse, judged without jury.
Being ‘sick’ in any manifestation is seen as a ‘weakness’ by our society. This invariably goes back to the ‘dog-eat-dog’ notion of surviving. The weakest link perishes or is a burden to the whole. But these days, with our so-called faith and mercy in place, one might imagine a little more compassion? And if you did, you would be sorely disappointed.
Since getting sick in 2017 I have felt intermittently well enough to continue working and ‘accomplishing’. But as with any pendulum, when it swings deeply toward illness, I am right back at the horror point of when it all began, down on my knees, imploring the universe for healing. And for the most part I have done this alone, because as all those who have been sick for a time will attest, most people do not stay by your side. Even those you expect to.
You can’t plan any longer. A trip is a fear because what if you get sick? Then someone suggests; maybe it’s in your head, maybe you are making yourself sick? And no matter how many times you prove otherwise, they think maybe it’s a choice, just like being gay is a choice, right?
Wrong. You can’t rely upon yourself like you used to because you never know how it’s going to be, how you are going to be. And usually you could be relied upon 100 percent and now that’s gone and somehow you still have to plan a future, but how do you plan a future if you can’t rely upon yourself?
I try to take something from every experience I have, including negative ones. Without learning we don’t grow we just regurgitate and I would rather grow even if I’m throwing up and in pain as I do it. I have taken from this experience what is obvious, but I have also tried to take from others experiences, and have noticed disturbing patterns among those I know who have also been sick for a while or a very long while.
People don’t care.
Poverty goes hand in hand with illness.
Anxiety and fear are natural outcomes for a plethora of reasons.
Loneliness can kill.
What I have come to see is this. Sick people are TRUE WARRIORS.
They fight the unimaginable that most of us never have to endure. They have to get pacemakers in their 40s, they have to struggle through taking 2 hours to get dressed and STILL MANAGE TO SHOW UP and this strength – this strength is what I have learned the most from my experiences and listening to others. Strength comes in many forms. We dismiss most of those forms but they are real.
I watch people who have seizures and brain tumors, fight and fight and fight and I realize, we’ve got it backwards. We should be applauding these people not marginalizing them. But we do everything backwards, because as a whole we are poisoned by false ideas of what is valuable and what is not. We toss aside those we deem un-valuable when they are perhaps some of the most valuable people in the world.
So if you are disabled in any way, be it in your head, or your body, remember that. You are some of the most valuable people in the world. Let nobody ever let you forget that. You are some of the most valuable people in the world.
This is written for my sister Angie. You inspire me every single day. You are that light in the dark that refuses to give up and because of you, I refuse to give up too.
For so long I learned how
to unlearn living
taking from myself the stuffing of hope
letting it sink into water
to become sea dragon.
For so long I learned how
to unravel my sense of self
until she splayed like un-knotted parts
lost to sense, blown away
by wind and rain.
It is hard for me you see,
to understand the codes others live by
grasp a secret language of self-worth
belief in the core, where others cultivate
confidence or ego in neat parcel.
I had instead, a drive-through approach
leave the oven open
for patients to escape the asylum.
I was born a weed
between dirty post-war concrete
little watered, little attended to
I grew and persevered alongside
dog piss and empty coke cans
my color brighter than the cultivated plants
in your garden for my contrast to
yellowed grass much bleached by
urine and exhaust.
But weeds and thin things of little substance
need more than a little luck
to grow up whole
at some point I stopped leaning toward the sun
chose moonlight as my mistress
where over the oval of my sadness
I mistrusted the rest of the world
for she seemed to me then, full of
unkindness and pinches from cruel people.
In safe-guarding ourselves so long
we can easily forget
the chime of purpose
the rain of love
we think we can subsist on existing alone
that’s what I did,
survived without living.
It was long ago now, but still it seems
only yesterday at times, I met you
with your bright electric eyes and your
shocking lack of restraint, how your
madness compelled you forward with
a lightning rod as your scepter
I felt your hand reach for me
and I was undone by the intensity
of us. A jewel within a cave
that for so long held no light.
When you stopped loving me,
it rained for forty days and stayed
dry at night, I walked empty roads with
bare feet and saw flowers like I had
once been, growing fitfully by the side of
street corners, not knowing yet, what they
reached for or whether fate
or courage, would give them
If you take someone broken who didn’t know
how to be whole and you give them
love, they will either break it accidentally
in their desperation and fear, or love will
consume them and leave them unable
to live without it.
I felt without you;
incomplete, erased, unwilling
to live on, there seemed no point
for I had not learned to love myself
and perhaps I never will,
it’s in my blood, my DNA to be
shockingly empty of self-worth
I exist without living and it has become
a nasty festering wound refusing
to scab over.
You went on with your life because
for you, living wasn’t dependent upon
anything but hope, you had enough of
that to last several people’s lifetimes
it was, I think, the bequeathing of your
sickness. A magician claiming to
turn things to gold, when all he
possessed was slight of hand.
I however, did not know
how to forge hope or find reason beyond
habit for waking each morning, every
day I did, the burn grew ever deeper, never
really resisting the urge to
consume me whole. I heard voices
they would sing lullabies of
jumping from tall buildings
as others would have dreams
of flying. Mine was bent toward
destruction, a solace in the imagining
of ending this charade.
Tarnished people with little reserves
are good bait for hungry souls
who feast on their need to be wanted
with the savagery of a nation.
Since you, I have lived with dying almost
every day, the punctuated purpose of more
than wiping the slate clean, devoid
of consciousness, tantalisingly distant
I am haunted
by memories of joy like a slow
sword delivering poison
too intense for most of the world
I remain alone in my grief
binding it to me like a silent
You knew this when you met me, you let
the dogs of your heat devour what
little strength was left, for survival
isn’t easy when there’s no water in
the deepest well.
I blame myself of course, as all
good victims are taught,
occasionally I wish for anger
to cleanse the pain away
even if it left just charred parts
and blackened ruin, it might
be easier to bear than
regret and memories
as potent now as the very day
I let my defenses down and you
walked in, radiant and unafraid.
WE are shelters for the needy
but so often, the Narcissist chooses
the same abode and for those of us
who grew without succor, or enrichment
there is nothing easier than our undoing
at the hands of a cold heart.
If I had a daughter I would never
let her flourish trapped between concrete
I would watch her until she grew
strong and had within her, all it takes
to ward off those who seek only to
bleed and consume what is good
and untainted. Perhaps it is too late
or maybe one day, I will learn
a way to keep growing
not just existing, and it is possible
in time, the scars of you could be
replaced by someone else. If such a
person existed, I cannot fathom, for this
world is often frozen in its
eternal demand for the cruel and
the unkind to conquer
and dance on the
fallen necks of
to keep facing
Still. We. Exist.
Perhaps in time
we will do more
than simply survive.
before wishing adieu
consider those rushing years
how they go
girls in wide skirts with brown elbows
flaring in pluming circles, colors of earth and sky
feet tripping over movement, making hexagons of their desire
look back … oh look back
those long years that lay like the junk drawer in your house
untouched by thought or query
ransack shelves you have long forgotten
a hair band from her, 2006 I think, the texture of caught wisps changed so much.
Every room carries the souls of every person who inhabited them
a ring made of silver paper, from the inside of a cigarette box as we sat
in a dark bar on the edge of town, knocking back whiskey and birch
playing footsie beneath sticky tables, with shoes off, bare toes searching
photos of people lost, people found, people who no longer exist lost in circles
the force of life remains inexplicable.
Times past, fast and hot like racing cars revving their engines as soon as dusk
settles like a woman’s gloves on the sorrowful face of the world
for years you rushed around, paying no heed to silent pieces of life you accumulated
halogen lamps stand like cupie dolls with radiant faces
stuffing them in boxes, tying with ribbons, preserving for what day?
There’s lavender from my grandmothers farm, her old best silver spoon, a dog
tag from my father’s first, the smell of grass and good doggie sweat still adheres
an old stone mill and my cousins would drink from tadpole ridden water
and I am the one who grew up to outlast, everyone.
All the people in this photo are gone, still they remain on unsettled periphery
what would they tell me? Get rid of her, she chokes you like
late wine that has corked, she takes and gives nothing back but ingratitude
it’s never enough, it will never be enough, you are not seeing clearly
and the memories of velvet as soft as snow haunt like miniature heart
attacks caught in disused webs.
in jars there are stars and in skies there are words, for everything existing here
is upside down
I write about you until my fingers bruise, I remember the little things
you long cast aside as of no use, like me, like us, like this, once and lost
your memory is a cruel sieve with no regard for history or effort
only the smelt of immediacy and present day full exposure
I have long been your past, just as we have
become junk in drawers, lost to further inspection
when words run dry and even letters stay unopened
your cough sweets, when you ran a high fever and I made soup
the times I took, the hours, the moments,
caught in nets in your mind, to be drowned even deeper
crabbing pots without capture, no dinner tonight you sustain
yourself on bitterness and temerity.
When i am gone, tied in forgetfulnesses bow, you will not recollect
the cards I hand made, how I stitched your favorite sweater
three times till the moths had their eventual dinner
when you were lonely, the words we spoke in the dark
those comforts that are lost in the past, never to be unearthed
I built a life time and you forgot the shopping list
and driving into the sun, lost your desire for remembering.
Here in this place, I keep the momentos of lost walks
the day you whispered to me, I was the one, how we
climbed and fell together, like gradual waterfall
here is the photo of us laughing
here is a snapshot of us ending
still there are always rubber bands and pins at the bottom of a drawer
to snap and prick you back, to caring about something other than yourself
where we lay beneath cherry blossom, because you said you always wanted
to eat sandwiches and drink wine beneath Spring trees
my hair growing below my waist, the pizza they gave us
when one was not enough, drinking coffee on tindered street
wishing we could still smoke, being well behaved, havoc resting
the copper light of that room, how it smelt of patchouli and wine
even as we left.
I still fit into those days
they fit me like old clothes made new with sentiment’s stitch
climbing from the silence of today into
a divining bell and sinking beneath perpetual hurt
till music swells and covers my consciousness with
they slip into me as you dove
deep and never released
your breath, my swimmer, my underwater love.
I still see you there
telling me to trust, when I am walking on our ash
here the trees are taller than those we grew to
know and there are no cactus or flowers of the desert
to go with that favorite tune.
I climb California hills with Barney and he hands me
a piece of advice, a white flag
don’t look back, do what it takes
life is an arrow, cast it wide, cast it careful.
Pink is a damn sunrise slung over beautiful shoulders
running rest of the way home, past the old mental hospital
where secrets are wrapped in files never read, like mosquito nets in Alaska
I go back to my Canadian house and the closed feel of doors
watch snow fall and think of tattoos
over 30 and how time is like unconsciousness
you feel it in another part of you
searching for a way to unite the two.
Slow jazz playing on a malnutritioned needle
here the fair comes promptly in June
they all rush outdoors, so grateful for sun
I tell them, where I came from it never relented.
And I wonder, are you still there? Waiting for me
on the one day of rain? As we kissed goodbye
beneath lampposts, driving separately off, blind in downpour
each aware of time ticking further apart
long arms flung like an acrobat in green ocean
flips ever more easily, than we on land
shall inherit perhaps these fitful musings
of things left behind
The fence between us
you hammered in
you uncoiled and made
tall and hard to
What if she’s me? The woman screaming without reprieve?
And what if she’s you? The body beneath the sheets lifted by strangers?
Every time the phone rings, I see in my minds eye, your prone form
fallen, or hurt, somehow
this fear I inhabit is years in coming
your fragility creeps up on us like a wettened shroud
once so strong, you’d take me in your bronze arms and
press me to you where the sound of your powerful
heart beat assured me nothing would erase or remove
then the sick hiss and whisker of machines
a tube down your throat, a glazed look, no recognition
slack hand filled with needles, empty eyes void of life
I felt you moving away even as you stayed
gone and still there
a stranger in your face, your expressions glazed
even the taste of your lips changed
as if blistering over from sudden Winter storm.
As time ticks down, we look up
to salvation, prayer and hope when
maybe nobody listens
I stand over you as you sleep
your little bluebird chest rising in dream
I want to
climb on the bed and laugh as once we did
curling around each other in chased game
oh so much joy in one shared heart
when i was your girl and you were my
now the dust has settled and we still
scattered pictures, cannot see clearly
all around are shadows and shorn warnings
easy to lose ourselves in fears glory
like gathering a bird who has fallen from glass
stunned and dying pressed in our hands
death on us now, like unsought reflection
glinting, glinting, glinting.
I miss you, the you I knew
better than I know myself
who would turn in her sleep and
touch me without waking
such was our eternal fuse
one into the other, no boundaries
and time is a fickle fellow
taking you and keeping you sickened
welded to pills and paper casts of closed theatres
we stand apart, at times nearly severed
I would sacrifice all to make you well
but i have given everything i know
it is clear we go in different directions
one is the end and you drift like
wind on frigid water
while i continue to swim upstream
i cannot, you see
your bright feathers dull
and still i look up
when birds fly into glass