I AM A TOTEM OF MY OWN BRANDING

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I’ve been told I’m a chronic pain in the ass

after all, it’s easy to destroy a child in an adult’s body

with past-tense words

and now in the time I’m meant to be at my strongest

chronic has visited me and stayed a long while

on a good day I think; This will not be forever

but temporary has always been a long way off

the doctors love to tell us; It’s incurable, get used to

living like this, hostage to something unknown and strange

as if that’s a normal thing to do

but if enough of us live with chronic illness, it will become normal

and that is not a good thing.

Before this …

I took chances, because you think

I’m invulnerable, sometimes I can fly

health, you take for granted

though I truly convinced myself, I had checked the boxes

right weight, exercise, organic, vegetables, no pre-made meals

(well, this is what I told my doctor, sometimes a couch counts as exercise, right?)

if I ate a slice of pizza, it was a treat with friends

though I like root beer, I never drank it

maybe making up for cigarettes, smoked in my twenties

but I thought if I keep jogging, if I keep living healthily

I won’t be felled, because you ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

A few months before I got sick, I recall

feeling strong, climbing through snow drifts and laughing

boundless energy, working long hours, feeling intensely alive

people saying; you look so healthy, your skin is radiant!

Those are not things people say now, unless

I apply a lot of make-up, to camouflage my fraying edges

instead it is me, who declines invitations

I am sorry I cannot go with you to eat, even though eating out

is the number one leisure activity where I live

because my stomach is ruined and I cannot digest much

I live plain and simple (and boring), like a nun and I am numbed

to the pleasures of wine and sauces and garlic, spices and oils

not recognizing my bloated mid section in the mirror

from the girl who once was told

she had an hour-glass figure, with a wasp waist

could run for buses and catch them in three-inch heals.

I know everyone has their burden

but when you get sick and it doesn’t go away

life becomes a series of scolds and let downs

you find out who really loves you and who harbored an anger

used the opportunity of your downfall, to insert a knife

it is the cowards way of course, but freedom of sorts

for none of us need, that kind of negativity in our lives

there is a blessing in disguise, when you find your tribe

the people who care and know the real you

not wanting to tear you apart, because it’s easy to kick you when you’re down.

But blessings do not salvage, the hours you spend sickening

remembering how you were rarely felled in past years

strong of body, sound of mind, juicing and walking ten miles

everything is turned upside down, inside out when you find

a burnt fuse, at the end of your outstretched arm.

There is no cure, there is no future

when you live, in a jar for the jarring

for a long while, I blamed myself

maybe in part, because someone I trusted told me;

“It is your fault, you must have somehow caused it”

easy to throw stones, at glass houses

I was a glass house, with many windows

break one and I cannot repair it

the wind will come in and make of my space

chaos

the sun will come in and make of my peace

madness.

Those things that brought me joy, were gone

instead, the regiment of illness strode in and stood firm

you cannot feel passion, when you are sick

ageing in hours, rather than decades, trying to stay above water

it is hard to feel hope

you rely upon the kindness of others

which is hard to do, if you are not used to it

and when they lift you to the light, you promise

if I can recover, I will try ever so hard to never be ungrateful

but with every mercy, is a dark day in hell

those days take it all out of you, like a scourge

the sickening can age you, more than a nightmare

one minute you recognize yourself, the next you are unknown

vulnerability, of not being able to take care of yourself

the expense and fear

your world crumbling around you.

These are things you get used to and when you have fallen

to the bottom and can no longer get up

that is where the truth lies

that is where you can find

your true self and the end of fear.

They tried to tell you that you were insane

making it up, all in your head, something’s wrong with that

crazy lady who pounds her fluttering chest in vain

tries to catch the eyes of doctors, with beseeching side-glance

SEE ME! HEAL ME! SAVE ME! WHAT IS WRONG?

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME? WHY DID I WAKE UP ONE DAY

SICK AND IT NEVER WENT AWAY?

And yes ! Something was wrong with me and still is

not my doing, not my causing, not my dreaming

despite you saying; You bothered us, when you called and were upset

no mercy, no mercy, no mercy, that is not love.

Helped me let go. Don’t hold on to negativity.

Oh doctor, get it outt!

and if you can’t, then give me the key, the saw, the pick

so I may survive myself and somehow continue on.

Am I to label myself chronically ill, or in recovery?

Surviving or dying or all of the above?

how do you define what doesn’t go and doesn’t kill?

Spending all your money on alternative treatments that

don’t even know what they pretend to cure

how do you describe one good day, followed by one in hell?

others won’t understand, because they are well

what I would give to return, to that safe water place

but even if I did, I would not be the same

you live years with a loaded gun to your head, everything changes.

I am not me anymore

I cannot see out of my left eye

I cannot lift heavy things, with my weak foreign arms

I can walk ten miles and not break a sweat despite this and be told

by friends and foes; OH YOU DON’T LOOK SICK

I am an apparent scar of contradictions and pain

I hurt every day, my stomach feels like

something is eating me from the inside out

it convulses and retorts and shouts

“you will never win, you will bathe in pain the rest of your life”

but I will still try

because I don’t know how to give in to enemies, I cannot see

and even as I cannot eat normal food

one day I am good, the next I am dying green

even as nausea, has become my constant companion

and bottles of pills and vitamins rattle in my pit

even as I fight to be gracious in the eye of the storm

and those I thought would stand by me, try to drown me instead

I know there is still a moment

I am well enough to remember who I am

never to find that peace of mind again

but maybe recover to another state of being.

I wake in the night covered in sweat and the disinterested doctor says

“get used to not sleeping, get used to all of this, it is what you must suffer and many others do”

as if it is normal to be like this, as if it is something we should not mention

I will never think it is normal to be hijacked!

I jog into the forest, because it reminds me I am still living, my feet still work

I fight with wilted hands, when they tell me there is no hope

that I should just consign my former glories to a picture album and put

my feet up for a fifty year occupation of sofas and couches and day time oblivion

because THE POWER OF ME can overcome the power of negativity and this I believe

as I see in the mirror a girl who doubts but stares back unblinking.

I have lost my will at times

I do not write as much,  I have less energy

the last time I had a romantic dinner was in a dream and I

sleep with a heating pad on my stomach every night instead of a lover

but I still pay my own way and my own bills

I have a pride in pushing back against status quo

DEFYING the prescription of HOPELESSNESS.

they tell me go on disability. Just give up

I am not going anywhere, but to the finish line

I learned

by losing everything and having nothing but

the sheer will and dim light of my existence

I can do this without those I thought I had in my corner

because I am stronger than I realized

and this grieves me, as well as reassures me

but I come from a long line of stoic, strong women

and it seems sicker than I am, that we should hate each other

because life, surely we have found out, is fragile

and love is all that makes sense

but even without love I will continue and not

let the flame go out.

Sometimes I ask myself why?

why not just give in? Take the knife, swallow the pill

to oblivion or some non-sign-posted destination

I don’t have children to protect

it would be easy to slip out of this world and its sword edge of pain

but somehow I feel I should protect myself

maybe because others did not

maybe because you defend yourself in the end

when everything else is fallen and you are still

somehow, standing.

I am weak and tired and prematurely aged into

a hunched over version of myself

hair greying with shock, skin is sloughing off and my

body is tied to the rhythm of a sickness that purges and gluts

I was told this kind of disorder was permanent

but nothing I have found, is ever guaranteed

so I have chosen to ignore this and believe

we can all fight and overcome

anything

even a death sentence

even betrayal

even silence

and when we know this

when we are strong for our weakness

realize our tears are just water and salt

burning the frustration of our visiting menace

then, we know nothing can hurt us, more than it already has

and we are free to dream

of a future without so much pain

where death stands to the side and lets us regain

some of our former dignity

for there is nothing dignified in sickness

and you don’t know me when you said I was glamorous

that is the last thing I am

I am beautiful for my courage

beautiful for my fear

beautiful for my survival

beautiful for my defeat

beautiful for my mercy of those who have no mercy for me.

And life is a wax and a wane

life is a torture and a friend

I am the totem of my own branding

I may live in a time where nobody else of my kith and kin remain

and once that would have filled me with pain

now I know you cannot rely upon

labels of safety

it is only by looking into the hearts of those

who stayed by your side when the storm hit

even if it is one, even if it is naught

you remain behind

the tempest cannot roar forever

eventually even agony ceases.

I wish now, to be everything you were not

to love others unconditionally

care for those who are in need

be the change I want to see

I want to find myself

at the end of all of this

I want to tell you, sickness

you do not win

you are just a miasma

I am a spirit with a soul

I will endure you

the me, of me, will remain

long after, to remember her worth.

Before this all began and through it, learned

only the fierce remain

only those willing to FEEL

and not those who run from feeling

with the ease of the damned.

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The expulsion of love

this oneWhere are you now?

Sitting on your stoop, first light, cats weaving between

coffee in hand, watching sunrise,

what are you thinking?

You are not thinking of me

the door is shut on us and you turned the key

it took only the loss of hope that gentle thing

and I became a stranger

so many days, months, years and still

I know you less

is it that easy? Was it that hard?

The expulsion of love

still live, dying on the floor.

I met you when the coals were

burning hottest, all I wanted was

a reflection of those feelings

you took my hand and guided it

into your clasp and pressed my back

with a deep

push into another world

the world of you

where I have been these many years.

They weren’t just words

though if I strain I can hear

the first you whispered

our curled against other in dark

your fingers creating universes

I felt their beckon

as I had not before

the press of you and the beseech of me

it was as if once inside

you claimed that part and as your possessed

I never struggled to be free

it was what I had always sought

to be needed at that scolding temperature

we barely survived our love

it burned and that heat was

the very raging heart of us.

Now day is long

you are gone in so many ways

absent in your once fine mind

emptied of the gentleness I knew

a stranger to me, a welted memory

it is not death, it is not life

I cannot talk to you, the only one I would

I have no solace in recall

it is like being tortured

there is only time, and they say time

heals all, but that is a lie

perhaps for you, already forgetting

I recall too much and everything

is a red road sign to us always.

The day I stood nude on white balcony

I did not recognize that girl who

had stupidly wanted forever and you

she wanted the innocence of us

how neither had ever fallen before

how you were virgin of touch and I

closed and shut up

together we opened the universe

you, it was only you and

it wasn’t me but for the echo of you

enfolded and besotted as no

future can replicate

there are some times only

once and never again

moments and feelings untested

who meet and create together

that celestial place in time.

I think of you now with a crushing feeling

as if someone has come within me, a trespass

thrown out all the certainty and warmth

leaving me emptied and discarded

surely you know that and pass it by

as your armored heart does not

recognize me anymore

there is nothing more awful

than to fade and diminish in regard

until you are no more than

a throwaway comment.

I walk the streets of my memories

like a widow in her veil

watching myself dry into a statue

of torment and you? You I suppose are free

it was always your selfhood to

change and alter in fickle flick of wrist

the time, the hour, in this case the girl

who stands in her memory palace

trying to rid herself of the feeling

it will only ever contain your shadow

and the footsteps you left

some bloodied, some too deep

to ever expunge that influence or

the sound of your whisper calling me

over time and space to some created place

where I am ever yours and never

free of that promise I made when you asked

me to submit and wed, the marrow to

your existence.

I did not understand how easy it was

to break and smash the very articles of

us

oh my love, oh my love

I never said it before, I never said it afterward

where did you bury my soul? And where

is the key to unlock that prison I inhabit now?

where being alone, I hear at night

the fidget and torture of your touch

over the fading moon an outline of

you and only ever you, it has become

an effigy to something once

consumed me whole and kept me digested

within you darling, to your very core

where I heard your life blood rush and gather

I became then, the child of you

she cries out now to your emptied eyes

turned from me, reduced to ash

as cold and unfeeling, as if never was

the burn and sear of branded emotion

we called us two and now only one

the loneliness is destroying me

inch by inch, I claim further madness

for you were me and I do not know

how to exist without, the belief we were

sewn in harmony with

each other’s binding, become all I know

all of me born, the day you baptized me

with your claiming eyes

deciding it should be me, you take

as your mate in this world.

Now our world has decayed to naught

you will not return, or have a thought

for what you left behind when you

closed that door

and

without sound

left the key to

rust into

red

water

Yehudit

14gottschalk3-jumboWe learned to swim

in the flickering pools of each other’s eyes

desire born in quiet step and curtsy

before I ever touched you outside this dream world

you were the betroth of my sleep

we circled each other in origami folds

acquainting, never strangers, always known

as if time held us apart long enough, to generate

in the deep cry of longing, a hallowed place

where only those destined for the other

shall like painted flowers, made of paper

embrace, release and turn to ink

coloring water the stain of lacquered longing

reborn on latticed wing of desire

to breathe again in the surround of this singular girl

for you, are my pendant, hung close to my heart

you do not tarnish or fade in intensity

you are the twitch in my smile, a muscle pulling

upward each time I think of you

it is as if, with every turning day

a part of me becomes dissolved

like sugar in tea sweetens what is plain

I am able to see in you, what you no longer can

those vestiges you put away

in a box too high for reclaiming

where your silver rings and sunlit hair

lies dormant, replaced by sensible overcooked hours

I was perhaps, born to return color to your cheeks

even as it grows dark I see your

sleek head bowed in feigned peace

knowing if I were admitted into

the sanctum of your unspoken sorrow

where peach hued roses bloom fragrant

there would be a blush again

marking darkness exquisite

as the silhouette of your dusky butterfly

brands my marrow indelibly

for it is simple; two people who did not plan

falling out of the sky, meet the other

everything changes, if they leave behind fear

we are not given wings, if meant to only walk earth

you send me to heights I could not

describe before you walked into my life

claiming my tiptoeing heart

we who are dancers of dusk and dawn

whisper secrets stored so long

out into infinity and beyond

she who is diminutive and siren

hear my song

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

Looking back at you

You took this photograph

Even if I forgot

The expression in my eyes would tell me

I was looking at your face

The dark of your eyes with their smile and their sadness

And all of us

Pieces torn into pieces, never too fragmented

For perfect recall

I remember every moment

Just as you forget

I hold on

Because you see

I loved you in a way

I shall never love again

You and just you

Us, and only us

And everyday we live

Without the other

I think of that moment

When you took my photo

And we both smiled

And held hands

Tightly beneath sweating table

And it is as if time

Has kept me there

Looking back at you

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

I wish I had never existed