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.

The shape of us

Lift her up

there the hang and fall

bestowed in little curtsies

hemming the space we form

in exultant strong brewed motion

plump on passion your swell against think of light

can I possess, what is unbound?

or will ghosts gather your wicked savageries

plant in ground this divining rod

lightning conducts flame like cautious feline

one brush, my teeth, your skin

panther lolling in banyan tree

emerald leaves the size of clenched fists

slick fruit ripe for the picking

a slice of muscled thigh, a twitch, spice, sigh

rising and falling in cotton swell

pass through the fabric holding us back

nectarine and jasmin

pearl slope of your thin back arched against my hand

dieties take turns to spell focus

wisteria and moon glow

crush of posies, carrying arching silouette

how much I have longed for you

this exact shape and time

in emptiness we find familiar fullness

in loss there is a stranger turn a friend

to bid us back to believing ourselves unpicked

we are part of this weave

tight against fabric, space, destined

as I watch the ribbon in your hair

twisting against itself, trying to work its way loose

there is purpose in the dark damson of your eyes

taking me down from my shabby habit

glass creatures beneath sugared earth

melting against the other

a fusion

the shape of us.

(I had this beautiful idea, two people met
neither one was afterward capable
of loving anyone else with the same intensity
because they were made for each other
every part of them knew, nothing could change that
not all the different people in the world and its various temptations
not anything)

As you may imagine

She was known as the girl with the waist length hair

The girl without siblings

The girl with turquoise eyes

She had a 23 inch waist

Those were the paper cut emblems of her life

She was vain

Though not empty headed

Her vanity was a poor replacement

Covering up loneliness and uncertainty

Perhaps if she’d had children, the size of her waist

Would have seemed so trivial

But she stayed in that sticky fingered past, sucking on old boiled candy

Where teenagers plume and forage

Because she found no other purchase

And that was sad and pathetic and lost and theatrical

And it was understandable

To those who like her

Watching themselves through glass

Like half packed suitcases

No hope chest

Using the acutrements to fill empiness

With

Costumes and colors and measurements

Because what her true circumference was

She had no idea

And how people could love her for more

Than the length of her hair

Or her green eyes

Or the width of her waist

She couldn’t fathom

Having only been

Nothing

Then no one

Then an object

People commented on

And touched her hair

And fit their envy around her waist

And smiled into her big eyes

And then

That attention gave her meaning

Shallow and superficial

Like eating too many chocolates

And spurring the taste

Swearing never

To gorge again

But she would

When the obscurity of being alone grew too much

She’d wear a fine dress

Put on eyeliner and lipstick and heels

And suddenly everyone saw her

And she was not a girl in the shadows

Waiting for her mom to come home

Or anyone

This

Is

The

Reason

For

Vanity

It’s not always as simple and egocentric as

You may imagine

Shoulders

Have you been a pall bearer?

Hefted the weight of a life

On your knitted shoulders

Waited out a scraped legacy

The bare snow covered branches

Truncating desolate plowed fields

Bird feathers showing in peppered shake

A recent emptying of warmth

Wearing kid yellow gloves because of early snow

Have you? Ever

Felt the weight digging into your neck?

Prizing reflection from your mortal frame

For he who rides on your calcifying bones

The errant and purposed heaviness of death

What did you think?

Going home to lean on thin elbows at kitchen table

Watching scarred pigeons on the sill

Coo and jostle for favored place in good fat sun

How stirred your mind

To the carrying of a whole life?

The resonance of loss, an impression

Marking you sutured and changed

Oh Lord, anything but cantinflear

All they saw

All they saw were moments left by those who came before

Not knowing what they meant or who they were

Lain in their waterpainted graves like matryoshka dolls

Did they grieve like us, whetting their knives on totems?

To understand those things that cannot be understood

A child breathing her last, in dimmed swaddling

The ache of old age, enveloping once limber athlete

Love crumpled like fallen leaves, forgotten beneath

Did they yearn to be special? Noticed? Relevant?

Or glide invisibly through spun sheets of glass

Like early morning bakers rising their bread

Grown stale by afternoon, becoming food for birds

Such circles clasped in ever decreasing circles

Worn as sea pearls on mermaids smooth throats

Were they kind? Merciful? Fearful? Incomplete?

The sight of tilled soil and ruined land cleared of living green

Did it bury the same arrow in their quincing conscience?

Will time gently lay a wreath of forgetfulness?

Over their efforts as if never and not, their lives

Extinguished in a long roll of time and bundled up

To lie beside other oxidizing keepsakes and memories

Til the last person who remembered, was no more

So much existing, lost in favor of the clamoring now

All they saw were moments left by those who came before

One

Out of the smallness that is me

Not you

I don’t know how you stumble through this world

Or glide, shine, explode, trip

Out of the smallness that is me

Is the only point of reference

I’m no empath

Can’t speak for you, choose colors for walls or swatch of fabric

You may stand beside me all our lives

Rubbing shoulders, sharing scraps thrown

By the hedgemony

Still I am me and you are you

You born in a family of four

Eight, three, six

Me, born in zero

A concept that is Indian

As my concept is reduced

Shrunken, made to fit a narrow lens

Just me

Till this world strokes her end

On my wick

And kissing me bon nuit

Extinguishes the tick tock tick

Out of the smallness that is me

To some an ordinary, downright boring set of genes

We are not that much more to each other than code

The man who seaks a mate types;

Pale skin need not apply

I like coffee and cream not plain vanilla

Whilst to another I am a warrior, a fighter, a courageous soul

I could have fangs and scales and they’d love me still whole

Their eyes pierce the superficial wrapping of the world and locate my root

Still

I wake from salt, I die in sod

Alone

An only child, no lessons in

Understanding concepts of siblings

I hold your hands in imaginary play

You take the razor away and hide it behind teddy

We swim underwater to the same heartbeat

Imagination has a secret back door

You stay behind whilst I am forced

Out into a single stage for ill-prepared audition

Can’t tap dance your way to inclusion

The audience are sets of Siamese twins

One yawns, the other powders her nose

He tweeks his moustache, she fidgits on the balls of her toes

A dancer without freedom

As I am given too loose a rein

Tell the child to hush and stay out of sight

You may find her gone before she’s finished

Learning her lessons from the good book

And sun comes ashen and discolored through poorly wiped glass

Yesterday’s merriment hangs like a wreath in stale air

Adults drop their heads as if pinched with regret

Just yesterday we didn’t think on it

The hiss of spectator and judge dualing on parapet

Still I am me and you are you

Longing to transcribe the distance

Tap tap of moorse code

Flash flash the lantern extinguished by high wave

No translation

I sit

At a table for one

And watch the elbows jostle and spar

Closer than twice removed and strangers can understand

A plea we have no words for

In the long sum of day

Yawning at our door

Warm and content like a cat

Who has lapped spilt milk

Before it turned sour

Out of the smallness that is me

Seven billion voices and one

Stubborn in her persistent belief

We all

Count

Moment #1

The blue

Crawls like a line of water

Containing streak of mercury

And just as you find

Strength

The blue

Omnipresent and unseen

Creeps closer

A malignant thing

Like a clerics collar loosened, seems a forlorn thing of no purpose

Disguarded stockings will lag wilted without wearer

Stripes on birthday paper are torn jagged

The margin of a novel bleeds it’s culmination

Deep grain in wooden table covers the scar

Flat white landscape, divided by sky and land

Endlessly running over the edge

Like blue hemmed girls, with pinkened mouths

Agape at the nonsense

Of our emotions

As they rise and fall 

Chords of melodies discordant

One step ahead of prediction

Mountain cedar wrapping her weeze

And January storm gathering

Washing out pollen like quiet swimmer

Reaching distant shoreline