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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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

On display

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I have my father’s feet

they are ugly I think

manly, wildebeest, sinew and bone

elongated toe as if saying

I am to be placed

deformed and bunion-esque

in shoes that will never fit

much like life, much like life

my father was considered a handsome man

many years women worked themselves into a hot

lather over his ways

perhaps it was a study in contrast

most men his age had already

mortal guts overhanging and could not

string a good sentence together

my father was verbose just as he was

shy and his hair was thick and hung

just so across his scarred brow

it seemed to galvanize the heterosexual piper call

women wanted or maybe they simply

didn’t want to have nothing and he

was nimble with his word play

indeed they forgave him for being

a redhead and if you think that is cruel

you’ve never known one or been one

they are the vilified among our kind

for their pallor and their color

an exotic relegated to rotten

less so in America

there is perhaps still

progression

yet my father, despite his flaming stamp

seemed to cut through the chaff

always though directed toward brunette, for a

blonde would be scared of the redhead

gene

and it is true they have begun to turn away

russet colored men from sperm banks

so my father had a chip on his shoulder

for being red when his father was

dark and swarthy

how then the man who is neither?

I inherited the pallor but not the color

nor the freckles I have some

of my mother in me though

she would say not

now I see it more and more

as she is less and less

snipping me out like

a bad paper doll who has

transgressed

I miss her even in preparation

for our dissolution

we are quite similar

and just as different

but when I see her eyes in

the mirror I ask

wasn’t I worth trying for?

It is futile to query

the reasons for disinterest

when studying psychology I learned

as only children never understand

the myriad ways we misinterpret

ten people in a room who all see

a different thing

perception then, is a liar and a clown

we should stick to loyalty

but that has fallen out of vogue

I thought being pale I would

age better than my contemporaries

who tanned themselves into oblivion

how I envied their brown

it’s enough to drive you crazy

wanting what you are never

but I am ageing faster

maybe it’s the mercury in my blood

or the grief I don’t seem to be able

to set aside

perhaps I have forgotten what it is like

to be cherished or how to dream

I do not know

but I dyed my hair when the grey came

taunting with its white brush as if to say

here you go, have a sprinkling

you’ve earned it

now my body begins the fiendish process

of cutting off

its estrogen and skin

starts to dull and lose its shine

almost enough to wish for

the discontented pale girl once

lucky I have no lover to

impress

for there is nothing

to brag in my loss of elastic

and sad dumpy thighs

they say you

do not need to have children

to sag

and I can attest

to no live birth

and much gravity

what was once popular in youth

the cleavage

the early fruit

becomes an enemy to

the middle-aged

am I that already? I seem

still to feel like the dancer on stage

earning her moves

taking love between her chest bone

squeezing it of juice

I visited my old studio when I went ‘home’

saw young girls with

long necks and flat chests

I wanted to be them

and also I did not

for it would be tiring to

start over again

with all the expectations and all the demands

there is something

still and good about

less

but I may have taken it to an extreme

with the quiet of my life

the emptiness of my eyes

if you see me

forgetful and slow

and then to dance

in a fleeting moment

you will understand

it is not easy to accept change

when you have not yet had your time

but forgive me my ugly feet

and look into my eyes

that is where I can still be found

searching for you

among the debris

and the loose ribbons

we kept so perfect

pinned tightly

on display

 

The shape of things to come

If you reap what you sew

if karma is real

if we get back what we give

if you make your bed and lie in it

then the heavy chain around my neck

is my own making

and the silence

is my doing

and the absence

is my creation

my dead babies dance with my ageing cat

whom I brought when I immigrated

we both came over in cages

though his was short term

and mine I did not pee in

tending the gravesites of my sins

lost loves, light candles

music gets me stoned and turned on

I think of you taking me in your arms

know you never will

that for a wordsmith

words when they have no power

are murdered

you left the knife in as you

walked away with your indifference

I slipped beneath water

clutching pocketful of rocks

I’d shown you my true self

you said it wasn’t enough

because I’d gotten old being loyal

you’d gotten old not keeping your word

now words are buried

along with portions of disguised anger

and my ability to trust

I can’t start over because I’m still

tied up, now I like it

it’s the perversion of the prisoner

of love

to want change and

in no way seek it

we have lost our fancy moves

I can’t fit into the illusion

we used to run in so well

so I take a step back

watch my slow motion fall

into frigid waters and slit wrists

where the only thing to touch me

is a memory of your words

meaning what they say

as you gather me like a bunch of roses

and get lost in my petals

before they loose

fall to the ground

the shape

of things to come

I wish I had never existed

Wisteria

fb3902489d3e4867927e2e3a9fa2e998Older people used to tell me how time goes faster for every year

I think it is more that we let time go on, doing nothing to change our course

where before we would have done more to reach the point, we were seeking

what causes this I don’t know, maybe youth is intense, more packed into a year

maybe we stop believing we can change, or get lazy, or preoccupied or led by fear

I wasn’t very old when I learned fear can stop the neediest heart and leave her all alone

staring at walls in a black dress

eventually a day comes we see we have spent a long time watching for ships

as years passed by and we got into a rut of our own invention

it stuns me we can stay still for so long, neglecting our wants, our needs

as if they do not exist, pushing them down, hiding their force

just as we deny their existence, they surface and it’s like no time has passed

we are the same passionate creature we were before we forgot how

only older without much wisdom, just the feeling we didn’t do enough

for some of that may be vanity, our finite lives, the idea of a beginning and end

some of it may be true, who we thought we would be, or never considered

I envy those people who set a straight arrow and shoot and never seem to miss

not all of us are that precise or insightful or calculated

I drifted, partly because of distractions, partly out of inertia or sadness or a feeling of loss before I gained

acting like I had all the time in the world, that things would come still come my way

when everyone knows as you get older it gets harder

to generate that spark, that kindling, that damn irresistible flame

I’m also guilty of trying to assuage fear and you cannot live for such things

you must be bold or if not, pretend you are, for nothing, nothing was ever found by a coward

I have been afraid a long time, I have not trusted myself or my ability to survive without safety nets and hesitation

there was this picture in my mind of me

old and alone in poverty and I ran from that as if it were the cross

so much so I didn’t consider if my choices were really mine

or I was just responding to anxiety about something that may never come to pass

and you

the attention I gave you

all these years

were not spent wisely

for when it ended, I got nothing in return

nothing at all to show

it was in that way, a real error on my part

nobody likes to pour themselves inside out for someone

only to find it all goes up in smoke

I can’t say you were my undoing because

we have choices, but I definitely wasted myself on you

who could cut me out of your world like I was a paper doll

all the emotion I had, that was wasted too

there is nothing worse than feeling you gave everything and still it wasn’t enough

so forgive me if I feel bitter about that.

When we stand still, we calcify but don’t always turn hard

I still remember the feeling of dancing and wanting and longing

I remember thinking maybe life doesn’t have to be so beige

and un-passionate, that it can be wisteria

maybe life can be the way I feel now at this exact moment

imagining what it would feel like kissing you until our lips grew sore

despite so many people in this world it is not easy

to stare across a room and find

your familiar, the one who moves your blood

but I thought I found it in you, from the very first

Probably I was mistaken, it seems like risks are only suited to certain players

but tell me, if I was wrong, then why do I hold such indelible feelings?

why do I not walk away when it seems, the logical thing to do

when I close my eyes I see your face

I long to hold your hand and feel the light pulse in your small wrist

except if things were meant to be

they’d fit and you’d feel the same way, not be unmoved by chemistry

perhaps it is the story of my life

to find it so hard to fall and when I do, land on my face

perhaps I am not meant to be in someone’s arms

held, worshiped and adored, as you once said

was that a brush-off or just the truth?

who knows anymore it almost doesn’t matter

because I have tasted disregard many times in my life

to the point of knowing all the flavors it comes in

and if you don’t share my feelings

if I don’t make you want to jump up and run to me

if you don’t stay awake at night, your heart thundering

then I am not going to try to woo you

and I don’t want to be the girl, who has to try twice as hard

not when it comes to emotions, they either exist or they don’t

it just seems an irony, I pluck up courage and make a fool of myself

I was once told I should go find someone who’d be crazy about me

if that were possible maybe I would

but you’d be surprised what exists

and what does not

in this funny world of

lonely hearts