The nadir of naught

It’s very difficult to write

when you are depressed

when you know depression

isn’t fleeting

isn’t because something happened

but the same as

a piece of string

will get affixed to tree limbs sometimes

and despite all effort

not be able to get

free

O

I envy (you’re not supposed to envy, but I do)

those without this malady

the world would call them stronger

they may blush slightly and say

aw shucks it’s a lottery isn’t it?

I could be just as glum as you if

my dog died, if my car broke down

and in those instances I want

so much to say

nononono

that’s not it

at all

it’s crying on your wedding day

from pain not joy

it’s feeling strong at a funeral because

the wires in your head don’t fire right

it’s understanding you’re going to have to try ten times harder

just to stand and be counted

and even then

you may wish

not to be counted

because perversity

is the twin

of sadness

she breaks you into shards

snickering as you

flail to put things back

It’s very difficult to write

when you are depressed

when you know depression

isn’t something you can push through

like your MFA teacher bid

one night when you contemplated

cutting your wrists with broken pottery

almost on a lark when hearing; try to work smarter!

desperation surging unbidden

fast and dark like unfiltered coffee

always leaves its gritty mark

on the ennui of fileted souls.

(This is for all those who were ever shamed for being depressed and having depressive symptoms, for feeling they were ‘less than’ because they could not function seamlessly as others appeared to. I see you. You are counted).

Combustion

What does one do in order to feel?

Not the safe kind, sanitized by Clorox wipe

left to garner in sun until just right temperature

palatable and convivial like a well heeled aunt.

No, I mean the bloody kind

coming at night, knocking your flippin socks off

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

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

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

where feelings elongate into shadows and back again

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

Those feelings, the ones hammering your heart shut

as you open windows in the morning, anguish

and agonies unnamed, pour out into sore tongued dawn

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

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

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

The sheer ravage of it

makes you want to turn and run like a red gash

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

sentence structure of survival

how you make eye contact, which hand you use

to wipe yourself

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

they crawl up your inner thighs and birth your secrets

with wild fingers and loose tongues

spilling afterbirth like unwanted punctuation.

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

the careful structure of denial, unknitting itself

in a parody of lovemaking you come undone

till one day sitting at a coffee shop

someone asks you if you have the time

and it reminds you

suddenly, a cut the length of a sword

nobody asks the time anymore

and you begin to scream

rooms emptying

people looking backward

at the woman who

unfolds her horror

like a thin Japanese fan

to keep herself

from combusting.

reminding themselves they can still fly

Only so much can be said of birds, or landscapes

yet grief? Grief is a world incapsulated in a tear

held to the sun and magnified, its kaleidoscope of color

without end

and while you may see me sitting at this table

with dried flowers catching wan Winter sun

my face a careful study of emotion beneath surface

I am actually at this very moment

lying on the unwashed floor

feeling cold tile invade my pores

just like the virus who crept into my stomach

changing everything like zealous house cleaner

see, on the floor I can curl up like I did as a child

pretend I am a dragon again, where ageing and its horrors

or just the spite of unbidden sickness

will not come for me, because I am no longer real.

The sun light will fade and with it, shadows come

reminders of our ephemerality

a dance with what is and what is no longer

the ghosts of my grandparents waltz beneath pear trees

their necks bent to dark skies, mouths slack with amusement

I thought then, nothing could disturb the fabric of the world

because youth told me so

and lies were easy to sew

delusion, such a merry friend

now it is not as easy and like them, my mask grows weary

often wishing to climb into bed and read

stories of others who have lived and died

sitting at tables, lying on floors, looking upward, open mouthed

finding ways to express the horror and brief respite

of coping with pain

I so admire those souls who laugh

though I suspect sometimes they simply do not think

of how things really sit

and that’s all right

because there’s no one way

of getting through this

the birds, maybe they know other means

perhaps that is why they migrate and it is has

less to do with warmth and more to do with

reminding themselves

they can still fly

(Expecting To Fly, by Buffalo Springfield, one of the best songs of the era https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzMl0-bhNcM&t=25s)

Below zero

Snow I have always

been thankful for your expunging

whiteout

how you take dirt

and suffocate it

beneath insistent layers

the wild and untame methods of your

settling, blown like befuddled

birds in all direction, swirling in

lost echo, falling eventually to

sugar-coat the dim world brighter

as pipes fail, their fragile egg shells

bloated with trapped water

a parallel I think

to our own shuttered lives

When I was a child I would

be told

do not go out in the snow for long

you will catch your death

and I hoped

very much

that were true

for to sleep

a red rose in bosom of white

I could fancy in my child’s mind

no greater perishment

though fancy and its

myriad ways of suggesting

death

grow less appealing

the older we get

Now I avoid slipping on ice

for fear of crushing my elbow into

shards like my father did

I see in the distance

my grandmother’s dog

he is trying to eat snow flakes

and puzzled when they melt

barks into whiskering storm

I think he speaks for us all

in this grand illusion

half wanting to be

taken off by encompassing whorls

carried to ice palace

where surely the meaning of

everything can be found

along with my mittens I lost

in tenth grade

stooping down to place

the cherry in

my snow robins

breast

Misleading light

You’re not leaving yet are you?

Girl with mango skin, every direction she turns

a kalidoscope of hopefulness in her smile

I notice how she wears her rings on her fingers like mine

that is because she is me

lost to time, a pull in a favorite knit top

the burgundy losing its focus as

it gathers holes

this is because she is me

bound to gravity and her weighty entreaty

toward inexorable end

a time away, yes, yes,

and nearer now than ever before

the steal of youth cloying on her dry hands

people slip her sweets and say: You are a doll

and she knows if she were a doll she’d be

able to affix the grimace all day and probably say

mama if you tipped her upside down

which is what she cannot say now

anymore than: I hurt, I cry, I feel

for she is passed that invisible line in the sand

where confession is pretty

she’s on the side of adulting

among the oaks and bulbs promising

fertility in Spring

but maybe they will be too tired

to show much of their lustrous potential

isn’t potential for under 25’s? She

read that somewhere in one of those

damaging women’s magazines before

they were transplanted to a screen

where weary eyed, prematurely hunched

poor postured youth eat their life’s golden ticket

like it is a salty snack at bedtime.

For sleep, for retreat, into the veiling woods

the silence unfolding like a veil, mist disgusing

her disappointment, even love doesn’t always

fill in where that ends, fickle in ways

you only learn when it’s exhausting

to find alternate routes, still she finds herself

thinking of the mango girl, the weight of the future

bowing her head like a shy dancer in the wings

of some hot lit theater

how then it was overwhelming in an entirely different way

the touch of a stranger, electricity firing her magic

quills into ether and those nights of no sleep

spent creating, describing, entire worlds

the future, a glittering prize, a lover, a friend

perhaps

perhaps

perhaps

it is time for her to leave

her skin shed in parts like impatient lizard of the desert

indigo handprints leading into arroyo

the scars of her like points of light

shining through

perpetual dark

as we mistake a falling star

when it is ignis fatuus

mere oxidation of phosphine

causing us to believe

remarkably and with some relief

in fairies again

Le repas

The way she cleans

puts away the day

into lopsided drawers that do not shut

well even on easy days

their contents lost in shuffle and exploit

planes over head, mornful drone, a whine

of grief as they attain height

her hands chapped from slapping herself

back to life

rivets run like zippers down her nails

a light somewhere is extinquished

another turned on, sudden furnace, shadows

vanquished, she has not drunk

all day, for the trembling in her hands

betrays the wait.

Dusk smears sky, oranges hang like

tired bosoms pressed in a woman’s dress

amidst plump leaves, blue-black birds

caw their hunger into the cavernous pitch, cats

with arched tails, disappear potently, eternally

her ankles swell with want, her thyroid

a box of treasure, alight with waiting in chocolate dusk

she dozes in her reverie, business put away

the calm of darkening, a hot bath scalding

dry air with its promise, oils filling her nostrils

pungent and wistful, infusion of sorrow

she remembers when

they lay together without fault

or breakage

the outline of their union

a mandala, with complicated lines leading back to circles

drawn in henna, indigo, cheap car paint, permanent in bare footed sprint

poured into a tattoo gun in the wild hinterlands of Canada

stabbed in little sticcatto for her eternal, sea sick

pleasure.

She lay then, thinking of

burning up

like fireworks

set alight to bloom and bloom till dry of pollen

in empty skies void of furtherment

she wanted to melt

the snow as she walked back

alone and hurting, wounded by her own loathing

a cigarette in her mouth

pressed against clenched, chipped teeth

and you? You were far off like winking lights in sea storm

and you were so far then… gone
without being gone

As is so much of life. Waiting. Closing curtains. Wrapping away disappointed hours

to bed, to claim, to screaming beneath wedged pillows

till the thankless clock in the downstairs anteroom chimes not

and without putting our heads in the oven even once

we are done
Done
Done.

New skin

I grew up knowing what cruelty was

it curled at the corners of day like

a well fed tiger.

Sometimes I did not think on it much

for I was preoccupied by my own

sense of emptiness and self pity or

just the song on the radio at that moment.

Years later I feel it

just beneath the surface like

new skin, flinty and unyielding, unfamiliar

and somehow horrifying

bleeding like a bruise

as yet unseen.

Maybe the brittle disappointment of

my ancestors, their sagas of

grief, shifting quiet loss, building

like ant hills awaiting flesh to

pierce with poison is my

only purpose.

There is shame in realizing

I am guilty of what I abhorred, this

softening violence, a compound fracture in

my psyche, alarming long held belief

I was kind

when there is no nice affability in

what I sometimes feel

only a wish to burn

deeply, leave charred and dead

those who would harm me or try

to fight, thinking me defenseless.

In that, I inherit the family tradition

of haters, long held like tarnished

shield, we have only endured by

cutting down those who would harm us

we are warriors without goodness

we fight sometimes because we like

the taste of spilt blood on our sorrowful lips

it is a necessary thing, I realize, that I am the last.

So when you tell me I am kind and good

do not use those platitudes so keenly

nor trust entirely, my motivation

I am every bit as wild as that feral

hungry, you bring in from the cold

who scratches you deeply, first

time you mistakenly take her purr

for pleasured trust

for I

know no such.

Letter to a dead friend at 5am

Natalie my friend.

Because you are you know. A real friend.

Though you lie beneath your roses now and I

feel as if I lie beneath them, with you.

For I am not as alive, once, twice, three times

as you ever were

you, who were beloved in life, you, who passed too soon, too well

into the light, beyond to your garden

where those who loved you and there were many

sat cross-legged waiting for you to tell a story

make us laugh, make us smile, radiate with your old world charm

for you were one of the last ones, the best generation

reminding me of my grandmother, those fine ladies of yester year

who did not have our mistakes and our errors, the Booming Boomers, befuddled Gen X kids, lost Millennial’s who

never quite learned, how to wake up early and brush their hair, until

it gleamed.

I keep your photo, I retain your last message to me, I have a quote on my

desk you wrote

and mindful always, you told me; Listen, don’t give a shit

don’t!

People will hate you, especially if you are good

it’s the way of the world, you told me, smell the roses, don’t give a damn

and don’t forget to swear copiously …

I have forgotten many things, my rule book is sabotaged, I keep making

the same mistakes, *stop it!* (say nothing, it’s safer!) I blunder as if I were a child sometimes, unsure

of the etiquette, not able to read minds and plunge my hands into

the mass of wriggling thought, to harness something tangible

I never understood humans ever so well (why are they so cold?)

their mascinations, their secret selves, it were as if being

an only-child I watched from the outside with bemusement

(or horror) (or incomprehension) why do they survive without needing

something? Someone? More than ego? Self-satisfaction? What

urges them to action? If not something meaningful?

One minute they would be saying, they loved me and the next

turning a cold shoulder, the variations, the deceptions, the quiet

subtext I did not relate to, what ever did they mean when

they went silent and I dropped like a dying star (autism is

more honest than what we deem normal, i’m certain)

out of their orbit? How to tell? What to care about? (I am

afraid of not mattering to anyone, and everything I do being futile, I don’t

want to go my entire life as lonely as now, with that hollow

fear inside my mouth, unable to come out, lodged deep

like a burrowing moth will press itself like unbidden velvet).

Natalie – – you said; Child, don’t care so much

for nobody cares as much as they say they do

unless God is watching and even then, they would be loved

without putting forth effort, they would have worship without

knowing the feel of ground skinned beneath their knees

few will truly care, this idea you will have a devotional

following, is only for the wicked and the vain, if you are lucky

I mean — really lucky

you may have friends you can count on one hand

who truly, when the chips are down, and before dawn has come

will turn to you and rise you up

from sickness, in health, in death, who will come and pay their respects?

I recall your funeral, how we passed down the long line

many were your contemporaries, women you said used to

criticize you for swearing overly, even accused you of making it up

about your mother, (surely her life wasn’t that hard!) but that’s why I love you, you said

for you believed me straight away and with the innocence

of children we came together, I had my first seventy year old friend

staying long at the coffin, flowers on top, clouds filled with rain as

if God were waiting until we passed, to let loose his tears

I didn’t believe in God, as you did, I did believe in you and you

were faithful and hypocritical like the best of us

a flawed, imperfect, relic of a human being with

magnificent hair and a dirty laugh.

I should have come visit more often, I said,

as we all say when someone meets their grave and the

smell of dirt is in our nostrils, time being as it is, so fickle

and short, and we, who are still young, think we are far

from this hour, not so far, not so far.

You told me, listen, forget what you’ve learned about

piety and mortality, people are beasts, the world is cruel

but if you can find someone who loves you, then hold on

for dear life, and do your best to help them through

for there is nothing sadder than loneliness in a room

full of people and there is nothing better than one hand

reaching for you in a crowd

pulling you out

into fresh air, where if we were the same age

I suspect I would have stood up to those who bullied you in

your thirties and told your mother to go hang when she

said she found you a disappointment

I know how that feels Natalie, we shared the same stories

forty years apart, when you were born I was not

still feel I am not, I miss you because

you were a riddle in a lesson in a riddle in a lesson and I

don’t meet people like you very often, nor have I in a long while

stood in your garden and smelt the roses, they bloom just

before the light you said, just before it begins to dawn and

that is when I would most like to close my eyes for the last time

and sleep forever.

On that day you died, I watched out of my window

for surely there would be a sign, something of you

gathering into the ether, if I took my glasses off and squinted

maybe I could see in the unyielding darkness a little of what

you spoke about, that stirring of Gods and tempests and

humans lost on their own gloat, people who exist without

giving a damn about, each other, or the basics of care, I never

understood, even if I were well versed as you, on parents who

didn’t really want (me) (us) (you) (I) (anything).

Last night I dreamed of going braless to the store and seeing

an old lover who stared at my chest the entire time, I dreamed

of boarding a plane with nobody on it, except waving oxygen masks

I dreamed of you and I dreamed of my mother

in the dream of you, you were walking through the rose

bushes and in time you were out of sight, and music I liked was

playing through an open window and I saw you take flight

and soon you were high in the sky and my eyes could no

longer follow your trajectory and I thought – – maybe I should

let go, but I don’t want to, I never have wanted to, I can’t

it isn’t in me to let go – – – (God I wish it were!) and the dream was about my mother

and she had always been gone and wasn’t there and

I was (holding her hair brush)

and I was (stepping into a lake)

and I was (still)

left behind to take these memories of people and sustain them

as if a bomb had obliterated everything but my recollection

be it real or wrong or scattered like pollen, I don’t know

I don’t know what to do Natalie, to be loved? Be glad of shrugging

them all and living in a cabin in the woods? Or to matter, to

be of consequence, like I felt with you. Was it because you were

old or just kind or just hurt or just battered by your own mother who

you said told you she had wished she had

a boy and not a girl and not you and not you and not you.

Why do the good ones die? Why will one day I watch them

throw flowers for my mother and long then, to have had her

tightly woven around me like clay

but untouchable is untouchable and yearning is for children

(she won’t have a funeral anyway, she doesn’t believe in God

either, and she won’t invite you, no she won’t invite you least of

all to a wake without a wake).

So grow up and put your shoes on child, your feet will get muddy if

you continue to walk bare foot when it rains and the thorns

will always sting even if you are pricked countless times

there is a sharp edge to beauty you said, did you know, I was once beautiful?

I know I replied, I can tell, you still are, because a woman with

wrinkles like ships on her cheeks can smile just once and

a room is devoured by her radiance

if others can’t see that, it’s all right

I think of you now, and then and in the future

alongside my day as I work beneath the fan, it is still hot

in September, yes you said, it always was in bloody infernal Texas.

People remain alive in our memories or they are forgotten

as I am, before they die

it’s all about how much they exist and what magical

recipe keeps them real and how much glue they possess

and whether they hold on, out of sheer bloody mindedness

or just for the hell of it

or perhaps they swear a lot and eat three over-easy eggs for breakfast

when the sun rises and the day is golden

and we begin over

like fools

like humans

like lovers of people who are warm and good

Natalie, like you.

And tell her to stay

cotton-in-braille

My mother sits on the side of the bed, it is 1980 or 1999 or never or sometime in the seventies or perhaps she’s not really there …

Her indent remains after the door closes, after the light is extinguished in the green hall way, where usually people go to sleep and she goes away, away, away …

Even then I could not see well, I squint into the half light, I look at the painted gypsy caravan wardrobe my parents picked up in a flea market before I was born, the cheap thin wood which now, years later, would be considered ‘antique’ – oh the absurdity of those things.

I think of them, crouching on elastic knees, abundant youth, painting, red and blue and yellow. I think of the song I learned in nursery about a rainbow, I think about gays appropriating rainbows later on and how ‘gay’ is not how most of us felt. How appropriation is always ironic.

When I began to stop wetting the bed, my father bought a calendar and stuck it on my wall, he would let me stick stars on the days I did not wet the bed, when I got enough stars he said, something great would happen. It had to be better than the machine I’d had the year before that ‘buzzed’ when I wet the bed and woke me up. I didn’t see how sesame seeds and electric buzzers would stop any child peeing in their nightmares.

A week later I opened my curtains, there was a stuffed toy rabbit on the windowsill, it was slightly damp from being there all night, and it smelt like fur and home. I still have it. It still has me. I never named it. How do you give a name to the earning of pain?

We lived in a basement, it was moldy in the Winter and cool in the Summer. I couldn’t see the sky, I grew to like the idea of living underground, of burrowing deep into the earth beneath city concrete, where the bodies murmured against river mud. I believed in Ghosts. Ghosts most certainly believed in me, they were my companions.

They shimmered past in half-light, caught in doorways and shining windows and dour corners. They contorted into devils by the astigmatism of my eye, becoming faces with fangs, fingers reaching upward. I wondered even then, why I feared the unseen more than the seen. Why what was not real felt more real than real? How ghosts could become my torment, when the world outside felt equally remorseless? Why not put them away and tackle that which existed? Perhaps that is exactly why. For a child who did not know how to make things right.

My wardrobe was little for a child, I was little for a child, my bones were plastic and breakable, they snapped when I folded myself tightly into corners, and the four cheap velour rabbits bought one Easter sat alert and watchful on the windowsill with a half moon shining in and lighting the face of the wardrobe into a grimacing creature.

The rabbits and I heard things. We saw things. Through bad eyes and deaf ears. The sound of my mother leaving, her presence skirting the room like a flamingo dancer, her lithe form, her long graceful arms with impossibly thin wrists, the smell of her on my skin because I was born of her, and then born not at all.

A clock did not exist on the wall, it did not tick down time, it did not remind us of what we had lost, it was not there, it left only the outline of its being like a circle set by sunlight on fading paint. A sundial without hands, without notion of time. Existing as planets exist, not realizing they circle the other.

My clothes grew tight as I elongated and sloughed the years, I kept an empty bottle of my mother’s eye make up remover by my bed, it smelt of her, as her hairbrush did, I wondered how she could live without her hairbrush. I did not wonder how she could live without me.

The tenants of the tall building were unhappy and they smiled a lot to cover it up. They said things like; We will be glad to look after your little girl. When my father cycled away, relieved, lighter, seeking a woman, seeking freedom, I stood on the doorstep and watched and the ache in my chest felt like a piece of lead piercing unnamed parts and I thought of my mother, how when she was my age she watched her parents sail back to Africa whilst she stayed still and I realized … how she and I were interchangeable and only the years were different.

Once, my mother said her mother put perfume on a handkerchief and left it for her and she kept it under her pillow. I kept my mother’s hairbrush under mine, it smelt of the oil of her curly hair, and the damp of my tears and the dust of time, sweeping her skirts along the empty floor.

I am alone now. As I was then. It feels the same. It feels worse because there is no illusion. Nothing like the future to hide behind and solace yourself with. No ‘things will be better when you grow up’ after you have grown up and realized they are not.

Again we are back in my bedroom. She is standing up. She is sitting down. The moment of her departure is fuzzy like my eye sight and I tell her, in years to come I will lose my eye sight and you will gain yours and my father will still be cycling away not knowing they piled on top of me and beat me to pieces, or that three little boys could throw marbles so viciously until a little girls heart burst and she ran away.

She turns to me and says something but it was twenty years ago. It was never. It was yesterday and I cannot see what she says or how she says it, to know if it was meant or just words spilled onto temporary carpet. I cannot know because she did not know, and our act was just a part of a grander outcome, both of us have forgotten and remembered many times since.

I love her in a way that slices through the fat and gets to the bone. I love her in a way I cannot articulate meaningfully but she knows and that’s the worst part, she knows. Maybe ever since I have found my father’s bicycle and learned to follow his trail, looking for her, looking for myself, seeking the way out of the high rise and the pinching boys and the ugliness that turns away when they see what is happening because maybe they are glad.

It is a day later, a year later, a decade past. We sit on roof tops in the weak sun and eat boiled sweets. Ants pick at our toes, dandelion’s die and float in their seed form to be wished upon and we leave them alone, already knowing, wishes are foibles.

You say it won’t hurt but it does and I knew it before it happened but I let it happen because of the ache inside that needed anything, even if it was pain.

The roof top is strewn with the debris of childhood, and my mother’s brush no longer smells of her, it goes through my hair like it was only my straight, boring hair it had to brush its entire life, as if she never existed and we did not sit on the bed together, the curtains closed nearly completely, only a hint of darkness spilling through.

If I had remembered I would have told her then, do not leave me when the time comes in twenty years, do not say goodbye a second, a forth, a nineteenth time. No matter what you think I have done, how disappointed you are in me, what disgust you hold in your heart. Instead remember this, the moment we sat quietly and I put my hand in yours and said it was okay and you cried and I cried from then until forever, without using my eyes or my ears or my mouth.

My father is cycling away from me, he is squinting ahead as if he sees something worth seeing, and I am turning, watching my mother close the door, asking that it be left open just a crack, to let the light in, hearing her steps in the corridor, not quite believing she will never come back. Because children always believe in magic. And Ghosts. And Monsters. And boys with marbles in their cheeks and demons in their eyes.

When I woke next to you and you asked me if I had a bad dream, I watched you as you sank back down into sleep and your hair fell across the pillow, the tangle and darkness of it against white linen. You could have been her, I could have been him, we could have never had a child, I ask you not to, please, do not, I don’t need to be born.

That’s why I was late, and why you struggled for 40 something hours in labor, they should have cut you, small as you were, small like me, but they didn’t, maybe it was cruelty, we have seen a lot of that in our life haven’t we and it wouldn’t surprise either one of us, or maybe it was the belief that women were strong enough no matter what, and we know that to be true also, even as we think it’s a damn shame sometimes.

You were strong enough and I was strong enough – to survive or endure but never really thrive – maybe you did – perhaps you were the only one who could – I had my eyes set on a future that never came, and a bicycle turning the corner, and my grandmother waving me from the street as I climbed the stairs to my class, and just as she turned to go, I ran back and I came outside and called her name and she said; Why aren’t you going to your classroom? And I wanted to say; Why would I go into a classroom? I’m not going to learn anything there? I have learned more here sitting on this bed, watching my mother leave, hearing her say things she did not say, wishing I were as powerful as the God of the wardrobe and not being able to eat my marzipan frog she brought me last. Because she gave it to me and I could not consume it and for it to be gone.

And you would have understood because you had your emotions close to your skin as I have, which makes you easily despised and sometimes admired. Because you were a coward as I have been, letting her be crushed by your absence and thinking it nothing at all, when you set sail again and again leaving her with a handkerchiefand a loneliness the size of Africa. I could not fill that loneliness although good God I tried many, many times, but when you break someone, you can put them back together, it does not mean they can hold anything you then pour into them.

She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw, and that from a child who didn’t yet know how to lie. I compare my lovers to her now. Wonder if they could beat her at chess and laugh because I know they could not. Think on how she managed to stay strong even in the harshest currents, when I cannot always stand without leaning. I look nothing like her, there is only sometimes in the cast of light, a glint of her in my eyes, looking back and when I see it, I ask her, why didn’t you spit me out before I was whole, so that you never had to be disappointed and I never had to lose you, then and now and never.

My grandmother taught me to swim in a basement, I dreamed the river would break its banks and my little home would be drowned. I dreamed my father was on the bottom bunk and I on the top and every time the water receded he was lifeless and I could do nothing, except scream impotently underwater for him to live. My grandmother died before I was old enough to let her know the truth, that I was not her grandchild but a water sprite dredged up from the river mud and set to swimming in dreams not of my own. That I had no parents but the marzipan figurines of night terrors and mares and I peed in my bed until I was too old to tell and old enough to lie.

Learning to swim was the only thing I learned fast and well, everything else came slow and difficult, just like trying to love someone who doesn’t love you, or expressing things too painful for words. I could sit with my parents and paint my wardrobe but I could never, ever, close the chink of light coming in from the slightly opened curtains, spilling on the floor where she walked across, soundlessly, growing dim and incomplete like the china dolls set back on a distant shelf somewhere.

Now I wear heavy glasses and even that is not enough, I cannot drive at night, I see things that are not there, and do not see what is. I think that is quite ironic really all things considered. My stomach hurts to think of how easily the brush goes through my hair, and how girls with curly hair never needed hairbrushes, so how hers became mine, seems like it always was, and the bottles she left behind were empty when she was here, when she was gone, when she never was.

If one day I am asked, I will say, I tried my best, I learned to swim well and I could pick up one of those weighted bricks from the bottom of the azure swimming pool but nobody came to see me swim so I did not compete well and soon I gave it up altogether. I will say I remember my grandmother running after a man who had broken in to watch us swim and bellowing at the top of her voice she scared him off, all 5’1 of her. I think my mother would laugh at that story, she has a wonderful laugh, it lights up her face and makes everyone else in the room join in.

We will not invite the shadows, we will not ask the ghouls or the disappointments to attend. We will stay the two of us, and wait it out. The past, the present and the future. We will talk on other things and not linger on those that prick and make us bleed. We will circumvent the pain like a sleeping lion and I will make her smile at my stories, the way I did once, once some time, some where. I have forgotten exactly when. The two of us, so alike and so different, sisters, strangers, with love the size of a river, with regret as deep as a drowning. Things never said on the tip of my tongue, burning with love, as we are quiet on the edge of the bed, with my mother about to leave and yet, still there, and me, always leaning, leaning towards her. Wanting to reach out. And tell her to stay.

The refugee heart

gratitude
Todd Davidson/Illustration Works/Corbis

Before hard faced words and tightened bouquets of spite,

came silence

The child swirled in embryo, unscathed by adult cast of hate

Yet unknowing we inhabit cruelty, like a brand in darkness will

light no way but vengeance, reflecting shadows of lost conscience

against petroglyph walls

stories dissipated in forgetting what is true.

This child who once had temerity and self-worth clad about her, the vestige

of some right to exist, perhaps.

An instinct, as weeds will thrive in exhaust and skinny cats climb insurmountable

to glut on that thrashing impulse, called survival

words now scarred, like badly bandaged souls do not forget the echo

of a tender heart turned wicked, nor that merciless piercing

through skin thought impenetrable, to embrace hot metal

as if it did not catch our very soul on fire.

Once, we all wished for, love, pure and unfettered, blooming as night rose

carrying her scent against warm air, inhaling vetiver magic, aware then, of all things

our cache of hope, restless in the waves, we yield, undulate and count

moon peal across black water, spinning youth into gossamer

too fine to hold us securely.

Those burnt coals raked certain, beneath the old impulse to run

mindful of how we grow, the thirst for something real remains

tantalizingly distant

against the roar of white waves, crashing tirelessly to shore

reducing our ankles frigid with the climb, a vaunted capture

of sea — receding against open hands to places beyond

our feeble reach.

As it grows light, the footsteps of those who walked ahead

finding debris of promises washed to shore, frozen by their spent fuse

and silvery starlight echoing her distant mockery of possessing any

certainty

those, who for some reason remain here, despite themselves

hollow in the want for familiar arms to gather them up whole

pressed to a beating heart, the murmur of security bound in

crescent sky.

A reddening brings the dream, she swoops low and achingly,

casting silvered birds from their reverie

that we not succumb to our collective despair

finding the drawers and cupboards of truth ransacked and emptied

by unseen robber

and instead, wait by the edge, long in the rising sear of sun

blackening our backs with shadow

for the sound of her footfall, across the dunes, sunk in splendor.

Her journey long, she made it anyway, even in the worst heat

of midday, when insects burrow against the burn and her mouth

opened in an O for the drink of your love

a beacon on a jutting rock, watching seagulls mock the air

with white foamy lift

wanting only for you to need

in equaled measure.