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 Nightingale

Only anger

where there should be love

until we let it go

become nothing but empty

as we were before

ever finding

fickle road to emotion

all its vanity and its glory

the good and the not so

and in between, days of roses

turning their thorns into pricks of

passion and belonging

for I surely

have never dwelt in another place so deeply

as that space of you

nothing left after the hurricane

all memory fled and closed

like a cuckoo clock without bird

a hollow tree absent of owl

the indigo night and no

stars

lighting our way back

now, we can only go forward

stumbling blindly

a snowstorm, desert, running out

of reasons to put

one step in front of next

yet as humans we have this penchant

for survival at any cost

it is not always a pretty thing

sometimes our hair is gnarled

our very hide, matted and overgrown

we may never recover

the girl within who

let you in

but still in mornings earliest hour

before most things awake

there is a stillness, a hush

an abundance of hope

in slow shadows and still warm hearth

a wisp of your hair remains

caught in my brush

I will let no-one use it

it stands testimony

proof of breakage

I am not the girl I once was

coming to you with flowers

plaited with fullness of trust

we are both much older now

turning from copper

the green of rivers drowning

those early wants

carrying lightness down stream

leaving us in perpetuate shade

where you tell me to go on

without you

turn your back

becoming stone

on which I pound

my small fists until they

bruise, turn purple like

spring crocus pushing through

late snow

if saying it changed anything

you’d never leave

if love were a superpower

you’d always stay

but birds always migrate

come first cold night

every year they return

changed

still searching for

meaning in the

wetlands of life

I suppose I am

your soundless bird who fell from her

cage

wishing you would

scoop me up, make me

in your image

with the press of your devour

and when you

were absent long enough

the wide sky outside did not

beckon

I became a

nightingale

I inhabit

darkness

like a needle can pierce

velvet and leave

no

discernible

mark

Between us both we made it whole

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Lean in, listen, I will only say it once

the shame, prevents a repeat

I must learn, not to be the person I have

my love, I’m not the girl you think I am

I don’t know where she went

I just stepped out for a moment & everything was gone

she might have gotten old, lost her way

that’s what happened when you keep

getting in the way of yourself

i’ve been waiting years for the sun to rise

remember how I used to be such a good dancer?

it was the tempo we inherited in each others grace

we turned like sundials who responded to moonlight

it hurts to think of those times

your hands entwined in mine like forest branches

creating crowns from winter flowers

piano keys winding down, ebony and ivory shivering

as opposites tripping velvet usher of hope

connection is such a rare place to find

change wrecking in tiny pinches & blows

your laughter echoing through stung lights

tea color turning gardens into amber

glasses of red wine like jewels against your blush

it was like a key I carried for years that never fit

you were the lock opening to me

you know when it’s right because everything has music

even when doves roost in pink dawn

holding back their flight until I open my eyes

the exquisite weight of you in my arms

i’d been living on scraps & empty cans before

you filled me with reasons to be full

loss is always worse when it’s blazingly real

and so little is real in this little bitter world

I could taste our memories on my tongue

after you left me standing in the rain

I saw you jumping up, catching drops with your mouth

felt the emptiness of your absence like a whetted knife

gutting me like a hunted thing, disgarded after pursuit

the funny thing was, I never blamed you

if I hadn’t felt so much, if I wasn’t the person i’d become

when bad things happen I always look in the mirror

and see why the arrow sticks

someone taught me that so long ago

I can’t even remember how to undo

the self defeat

but when we danced close I forgot those things

waiting to live & witness easy moments

of blue and red & your color, which is indescribable

I told you I would never leave you alone

the last time I trusted, it felt as if we grew up together

two pieces of butcher string nobody wanted

one of them got on a boat, found the horizon of you

aimed her direction like a sinuous archer

everyone else knew how to get through this labored life

my tricks were imploding, I had no wind up key

but you gave me the confidence to try

when I couldn’t do it anymore, you held me to the light

we flew past the wreckage others feasted on

I never expected to lose my one friend

as much time that passes, feels like only a second

slaughtering against shattered words

since I was that young smooth skinned woman learning to

cleave to you

it’s a curse to remember everything

to know no-one will ever come looking for me

like you did

because we recognized in the other

a reflection

something similar & broken

between us both, we made it whole

even though you are gone & where you sat

is cold and emptied of any trace

I still

look out for you

when it rains I think I hear

your footsteps in puddles, coming home

smell your wet sweater on hissing heater

your handprints on my cheeks, pressing hot kisses

my heart aches like it has

inherited the loss of all four seasons

of your absence & no amount of time

has the power over the memories of

how much you meant to me

they haven’t yet

invented words sufficient to convey this brand of grief

losing yourself in another brings

clouds murmuring over hilltops beckoning

darkness from fearful surround

and if you close your eyes

it almost feels like I am

lost in the spiral darkness

with you

sharing death

like we shared

everything of life

together

What they saw

What they saw

was a fracture of four

or eight

kalidoscopic prisms divided

who knew how many parts constituted sum?

One

an accent, a way of holding herself, spine sharp against humid skin

the torn down dancer inside

they levied their best pipe bombs

you don’t know suffering, you don’t know duress

all your life you had it easy

they lobbed over the wall and

a part of her that wasn’t her at all

was gone.

She had so many pieces left

scattered like dried petals and torn out chunks of hair

each one held a secret

was violate for its succumbing

they had their edges of cruelty

a quota for destruction, she existed in the

erased margins, picking her way through fatigued debris

others baggage and make shift games

falling on top of her

close the suitcase

suffocate the girl

here is Wendy here is Jane.

She’s a kid again, the boys are playing

marbles on her back

later she will have a tattoo where

their game turned nasty and left its

ugly smudge of sweat

filling in the spaces of rage

with ink and screams, uneaten pain getting cold

put frills on it and you’re ready for prom.

She’s walking in your shoes, they don’t nearly fit

they’re going to hobble her run at the kitchen table at night

father carves a turkey into birthday cake

slices of trust, quarters of must, beg for mercy

dot your i’s

her mother has something in her eye

guilt, shame, blot out the voices, lock them

between your legs, don’t cut your hair

let it grow like a river until you can climb

out of your underground sink hole

here is a change of clothes, a new

language, some pennies for a fast train

felate the man who carries your bags

compensate his wife with stark widow’s stare

you’ve lost your first three turns at the table.

Fingered beneath crinoline, elastic biting inner thighs

stockings wet hanging over the rue de cremieux

as he rolls his tongue in your ear like a edible snail

you recoil and spring

down the side of buildings, a black cat is not sought

her search for cream forming on first milk of morning

kiss me with your entire mouth, till I bite my lips blue

let no words spill out, lay me down, taste my colors

fingering brail with sticky pianist hands

speak in sound

hear me now

movement is a push

then you are in

Needle

Learned early

How to let go

Always saying goodbye

Short twitches of time

I learned

Through closing french windows

Palid light playing in empty spaces

Where dust looks like a jewel and distance

Can be swept up with the debris clamoring to get there

Doing nothing honors nothing

So we packed our memories in minced words

The river poorly stretching like colourless yawn

You inhabited the past before a future existed

Leaving, the ambelical chord severed in a neat recoil

And I learned, as in your turn you learned and in your mother’s turn she knew

Not to expect the people who should love you, to stay

I am a string of colored glass about memories neck

And as the rocket becomes totem in rain swollen skies

I wish myself an astronaut

To propel from tierra and leave behind legacies

Of loss

On a hot night, my hand sweats the melting ice tonguing glass

And in our imagination
we are needed

Vouched for by a tight stitched safety net spread over jagged edges

I was told I said thank you and sorry too much

So I quit saying both

Though it was only a habit bourne from

Being from people who never apologized.

Letting go is the most familiar feeling I possess

I turn to it like a lined book and scribble my fears in its grimy recesses

And the hairbrush and night light you left behind

Burns out and stays as cold as walking around the house without socks

Clings and repels

Calling in sick

Staying absent there is more oxygen

Catch me if you can says the long distance runner

We who stop and start our watches, so many times

Much used joints ache prematurely

And the thrum of rain is a constant

Thread through memory books

Poised as young dancers

Will crane to catch

Every elongation of unfolding sound

It was what bonded us

Immediate, like transferred ink

Can’t be licked off

The intimate knowing of good-byes and loss

Its reverberation in unused spare rooms

Pacing emptiness and her poor assuage

Until it was our turn

To raise the knife and bring our uncertainty

Puncture through fine quill of transparency

Hurt has that synonym

A song playing on repeat

Forever tasked to jumping her needle

Splinter

8.Boubat.-Portugal_-1956There is a thin slice of glass in my foot

I cannot see it

but I know it’s there

at night when

the fan whirls like a dervish overhead

and I play the xylophone between my legs

a storm blows in

like a warning and a representation

of everything felt and bottled up

old trees hold on, their roots tested

by the metal of young wind hurling

all order into chaos

we stand in our night-clothes

looking over fences

at destruction

she has a white line the length of her stomach

he has a scar hidden in his throat

mine is without and within like

a snake who cannot decide

which part to digest first

we three are the wounded lovers

with our perpetual thirst for

promises to ring true

devotion to stay where it was first placed

by the window in a jar of water

to bloom and scent the pulse of night

but such things rarely obey

wont of humans without power

the storm and her threading fingers

lays waste to our belief we control

even the tiniest morsel of this crochet world

…(l)…

when he married her

he thought she would obey

the tick tock of her laboring heart

stay steadfast by his side in the howling wind

but she was a maelstrom of her own

making

soon the wedge in their marital bed

was a dry river without resurrection

…(ll)…

she wanted

her husband to save her

when the doctor said C.A.N.C.E.R. and she turned

to the eyes of her children and they

looked away in painted terror

but he only knew how to put out fires

not the slow melt of all safe things she had

taken for granted 33 years

so they diverged

like a split oak touched by

lightning will remain

upright yet stranger to its mate

…(lll)…

and she was the string

between the wounded male and female

her own heart hollowed out

murmuring at night like a singleton

by the small hands of trust and promises

unkept

it was as her grandmother said

a poor thing to imagine humans

to remain steadfast

after all, the storm blew everything

even our very best intentions

whipping them into the air

until they were fragments of themselves

transformed what we knew

what we were familiar with

lending no safe harbor

for the weakened need to have surety

the only thing keeping them

upright

was their conjoined pain

a frayed ribbon between three houses

in the wildfire dead of night

where even

creatures who prefer darkness

stayed in their nests

for it was only then, in the tempest

they felt themselves capable

of surviving another moment

only then

shouting their grief into four pursing winds

writing pain along the narrow margins

of life and death

they lived another day

and on that day

wrecked and emptied

found succor in the equal fall of others

bending to pick up the debris of

their former selves

rent into splintered pieces

unrecognizable and sharp to the touch

For what they did yet not know

140829195756-22-women-in-comedy-restricted-horizontal-large-galleryYou thought it was bad when

you got your first zit

and the unblemished skin of your youth

erupted like Everest

you thought it was bad when

you got your first stretch-mark

and the smooth thighs and breasts of your growth

betrayed the camouflage

you thought it was bad when

you got your first scar

a thin line of emptiness which they said

the bikini would hide

you thought it was bad when

you sagged and you spun with weight loss and gain

in the span of twelve fevered months

and then it seemed

unimportant

because those scars

the immature loss of vanity and adulation

crying over not fitting into yourself

the lament of sudden change

was less than the stubborn plant of your feet

in survival

and you went to your neighbor

who was missing a breast

both of you shared

the disjointed humor of pain

and you went to your preacher

who had lost his testicle

he joked about being single

and you went to your park

saw women with brain tumors cut out

walking their high energy dogs

and you saw

this silly game of magazines and perfection

of I will stay 20 and flawless forever

of men who would leave when you get cut up and bleed

how it is but part of a bigger picture

that of sweat and guts and fear

and surviving through gritted teeth

even if he left because you were no longer perky and up for it

because you threw up at midnight instead of

giving him head

even if the girl at work could wear heels and short skirts

and you hid your swollen stomach behind swaths of cotton

or couldn’t get out of your bed

because then … just as everything seemed

to be wrinkling and disintegrating and rebuilding

into something unfamiliar and changed and partially incomplete

another man with light in his eyes

who didn’t care about such things

smiled at you as you walked beneath the yawning trees

because your medication said

avoid direct sunlight

and he said

I have the same problem which makes it hard living here doesn’t it?

and you talked and he smiled

and said

I like the way your eyes twinkle

and you said

I get that from my grandmother

even when she was eighty-five she was

proposed to by farmers who thought

she looked like a kind of Katherine Hepburn

and he said

I can see that

red

would you like to meet here tomorrow again?

and you saw the way the world really worked

underneath the adverts for boob jobs and butt lifts

and reality tv that’s nothing of the sort

his hand brushed yours and you saw

sunspots on both

it made you laugh

a little like a hiccuping hyena

and he laughed too

the survivors

beneath the canopy of life

snorting like five-year olds

as skinny joggers with air-brush tans ran past

with sad empty looks

for what they did not

yet know