If We Do This, Then We Really Did This.

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Month: May, 2014

My Babies

My babies, all my babies
The ones I’ve birthed from
the vast expanse of my body
and the ones who have seeded
themselves in my heart
and grown there like
the strong stalks of corn
in the middle of summer:

don’t listen to them, their
mad braying and frantic barks,
their carnival shouting over
the hectic music of you
growing up.
They’ll take all your tickets
and try to guess your worth
based on your weight,

but your soul doesn’t register
in pounds and ounces
so you’re a loser the minute
you put the paper in their hands
but they’re gonna take it anyway
because there’s always money
to be made off the humpbacked
misery of the unloved self.

So just leave them standing there
with a palm full of air and a
mouth full of nothing, let them
watch the way your retreating back
is as straight and bold as a wall
built of brick-strong truths and
thick love like half dry cement,
covered in centuries of clouds.

Leave them standing there and
go ride a roller-coaster or get
on the ferris wheel and sit at the top
and survey the whole world on
terms that live on only your tongue,
touch your fingertips to the sky and
shout to the crowd below how much
of a somebody you actually are,

not because your face is pleasant,
even though it is lovely to look at,
not because your body is pleasing
under the hands of a lover,
even though it will be, over and over,
not because your hair is long
not because your skin is clear
and your pores are invisible,

but because you exist, here,
today, and all the days since your
very first, because you gulp down
all this sweet air around you,
and that body-shaped sea
of stardust and atoms is moving
through time, through space,
an astronaut spirit, exploring,

and you are an adventure,
your body a wilderness, waiting
for you to wander through and
name all the native plants and
swim in waters that have never
touched skin; you are unmapped
territory, and they will plunder
you for profit, so pirate your own ship

and make them walk the plank,
throw them to the sharks and
hungry sirens, and set your sails
for home. Home, not the place,
not the four walls and fixed address,
but the heart that beats behind
the blade-shaped bone of sternum,
the curved timbers of your ribcage.

 

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Our Word :: Week 5 Day 3 :: {Flat Tire & Ballet Shoes} {11th Day of a Journey}

Through the sheets of rain rolling off the windshield, she could barely make out the bright yellow lines alerting her to which lane she was in. She’d turned off the radio ten minutes ago, when the low-hanging curtain of iron-colored cloud had split open and spilled a downpour onto the cars crawling along the highway; she couldn’t stand distractions when driving required her full attention, and the car was full of the kind of loud silence that sudden storms produce. She crawled along at 20 mph, sensing the agitation of the driver behind her aimed at the sensitive spot at the back of her neck, but she’d be damned if she drove any faster when she couldn’t even tell where she was on the road. Then, over the sound of the rain on the roof and the squeaking of the wipers she should have replaced five thousands miles ago, she heard a fat fwumpfwumpfwump sound thirty seconds before she felt it, an uneven bounce beneath her. She sighed, thought about crying, but instead indicated to the right and pulled over on the shoulder. The car that had been riding her bumper flew past, throwing a wave of water across her window; once it passed, the road was mostly empty in either direction, so she opened her door cautiously and stepped out. The left front tire lay low against the ground, and she groaned. Of course this would happen today, she thought, stomping through mud to the back of the car, opening the trunk and leaning in to find the tire iron. At least the rain was beginning to let up, slowing down to a medium drizzle; around her, fog was rising from the steaming blacktop and rolling back towards the trees that lined long miles of highway. With the spare tire wrangled out of its cramped quarters, she dropped it at her feet, grabbed the tire iron, and slammed the trunk door shut, then noticed an odd shaped something just past the place she had parked; it was vaguely rectangular and as she walked toward it, she could see it was a box that had been warped and crumpled and sunken by several days in the sun, exposed to all the elements of summer. Everything had gone quiet in that eerie way it does in the moments just after a heavy rain, when the birds and the bugs are still hiding dry somewhere, but as she leaned over the box, a crow flew just over her head with a loud CAW! that made her jump, and then she saw it was only a pair of ballet shoes, a dark wet pink, nestled in among handfuls of soaking wet wrapping paper. She reached for one, tentatively, unsure of the jangling of her nerves, and stroked the satin with one finger; the shoe rolled over like an obedient dog and there, along the bottom length of it, JUNIPER written in thick black ink, smudged at the end, the “e” and “r” almost illegible. The crow made another sweeping circle above her head and this time, she barely heard it.

IIIII IIIII I. Juniper scratched the newest mark into the ancient old cracked dash of the Pinto she’d been driving, using the rusty penknife he gave her before she left. She picked absentmindedly at a mosquito bite on her shoulder, her skin starting to peel from a fading sunburn, and flipped the map over her bare knees. There were thick red circles and lines and arrows wandering back and forth from east to west and she closed her eyes, counted to ten, let her finger pick the next destination — south, then, the back edge of the Delta, crawling up along the Mississippi. She folded the map up haphazardly and shoved it under the seat, stretched long enough to pop her back, and threw it into drive. Out here, she thought, this is it. Not the place she was putting further behind her with every mile of warm air rushing in the window. Not in the tomb of his arms, the way they blocked out all the sunlight even when it was laying in bright bars all over the bedroom. Not in the wall of mirrors, bent over the barre, always extending, always exhausted. The box sat in the seat beside her, boring, malevolent; the scar on the inside of her thigh twitched and jumped as the healing skin knits itself back together. The only music she’d brought with her reached the end of one side and slowly flipped itself over in the tape deck, a clunk and a whirrrr and that static sound of silence about to be broken. She was the only one on this long stretch of small highway, two lanes and trees and the smell of summer-warmed water somewhere out there; with nothing much to focus on, all she can see is a flash of sharp silver and a badly set broken bone, the skin at odd angles. She glanced down at the battered old box again, held together with brown paper and a couple of messy strips of packing tape; before she knew what was she was doing, her hand has grabbed at it, thrown it through the open window, thrown it away. She stared at it in the rear view mirror, how it bounced twice before landing upside-down on the shoulder, and the scar burned the way new scars do, and the laughter tore out of her tender throat like it had had eleven days to get ready to go.

Our Word :: Week 5 Day 2 :: {Waiting} {Most Of The Time}

I am waiting
on the passing of this cycle with the fullness of the moon, the second day smells of hot metal and dying leaves and drowsy moss clinging to the crevices of my upper inner thighs, the tide rolling out from a shore of seashell pink,
and most of the time,
my head goes with it, floating on a dreamy sea, and I’m shipwrecked in my own subconscious, surviving on salty fish and collected rainwater.

I am waiting for
Eve to sneak away from Adam and sit down and tell me her story under a tree infested with snakes and hanging low under the weight of overripe and unpicked fruit, so I lean my face against the bristling beard of old bark and listen for the flaming sword that haunts her footsteps and I suck on the dry end of my pen,
and most of the time, I can
be patient with the paper turning restlessly underneath my palm, but sometimes, tonight, the sweat collects and a breath tears it open along the middle and new beginnings must be found.

I am waiting to
feel more like a mother than just myself with two kids, or does everybody feel this way, that odd displacement of time and space, where your face in the mirror is the before-prom face or the first-time face or the just-married face or the first-wrinkle face but no I’m-the-mom-face? But turn me inside out and you would see their fingerprints imprinted all over my soft tissue,
and most of the time, I don’t remember
how it felt living without them, when love didn’t beat like war drums inside every vein, when the sighting of a single freckle couldn’t undo me, when my heart lived behind just one breast.

I am waiting
for someone to save me from my procrastination –well, my fear, because that is the true name of it, that is my Rumpelstiltskin and I would fill five castles full of spun straw gold before I would say out loud what a coward I am, how I hide this faint heart under layers of reasonable sounding logic but the quaking inside makes me seasick and
most of the time, I think
all that green around the gills is covered up with concealer and a strategically placed scarf, but you can smell it on my skin anyway, that animal scent of prey lowering its eyes in anticipation of the pounce.

I am waiting in
this stardust skin that feels like home again, standing under many-named moons and swooning as the songs of frogs bind my bare feet to musky dirt still damp with late spring rain, and it’s hard to feel alone out here, living out life over the bones of farmers and poets and soldiers and sweat-soaked housewives with cracked open hands, hearing their secret stories carried up through the soil on the skinny roots and bright green shoots of a newly planted garden,
and most of the time, I can’t even
understand a single word they speak, but later I will cut out the tongues of the heart of the tales and rinse them under running water, hold them in between my teeth, and in the hallowed halls inside my throat, they will be transformed into something sacred and shared.

I am waiting between
the air and the top of a scratchy blanket while the TV flickers a static shhhhhh and I don’t think he even knows I’m awake as he shoves his knees like knives between my thighs and does a “no” even count if no one can hear you? and I don’t blink until it’s over because blinking means I’ll cry so I stare at the fuzz of the screen and his breath smells like smoke every time he exhales into the back of my ear,
and most of the time, I believe
it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t consent, but I drank too much and I didn’t fight back and I only remember his name was Ryan and his eyes were green like dirty beer bottles and it’s still too much, even that.

I am waiting along with
the other she-wolves among us, spread in a circle under winter moons and summer crescents, and we howl but so few hear us, still we gather our young on either side and teach them the hunt, teach them the wild and the sweet, and our daughters know the heat of blood and our sons will know the magic of it, and
most of the time, I feel
the lupine bones under this human face, the sex smell of fur between my legs, the heavy pads of paws pressing out against my palms, and when the silver light spreads out into the shadows, my jaw can break open bones and bury them beneath me.

I am waiting with hope in my heart for
healing– for the body of my mother as it fights invading forces; for the spirit of my sisters as they slay the urge to stay and lay down their weapons; for the parts of my heart that lie cut off and twitching, refusing to be stitched back with the whole, and for the parts of my soul that insist on a space with bars on the window and only enough sunlight to warm their skin, because they don’t want to die but they do want to suffer, and
most of the time, I know exactly
the kind of woman I want to be, the wise woman healer, the soft-spoken shaman, but so much of me is still so new and I’m like a baby batting at my own two feet, and how can I claim a mantle of wisdom when I’m fascinated by the sight of my barely skin-clad bones dancing in the air above me?

I am waiting under
a bridge I built with blocks I carried upon my back, and I named each one, carved it out with the sharp end of an ancient stick, guilt/regret/you forgot her birthday/you never said good-bye/you lied/you lied and you cried while you did it, and it’s cold down here because the sun stops up at the top, but I sit here shivering and you know,
most of the time, I don’t hide from
monsters, but when the monster is me, the confrontation is brutal and looking full on in a mirror leaves me broken, so I come here to huddle under stones that have no faces so they can never see me cry.

I am waiting
for the rest of my life, if you want the ugly truth of it,
and most of the time, I prefer to think
I’m living it, but I’m not. I’m not.

Our Word :: Week 5 Day 1 :: {The Words of Another}

{Our writing prompt today was to copy, word for word, a passage written by someone else. I wrote the first poem in 1993, and I was someone else. My stepbrother committed suicide twenty-two years ago today, when he was seventeen. I was fourteen. It blew my world apart. I didn’t go to his funeral. I wrote this the following summer, fifteen, fragile, and though I didn’t know it then, I can see clearly now how I was seeking to recreate a way for a final good-bye. The second poem was written half an hour ago, by dissecting everything in the first one and stitching it back together into something new, a Frankenstein of forgiveness — for him, for me, for all of us, because the love we had for him and the love we had for each other and the love we had for ourselves was all over the ceiling and the walls for so long and we never knew how to clean it up without making an even bigger mess.

He would be forty this year. I think about him all the time. He had the kindest eyes.}

THEN.

My tears fall silently down
onto the dark jacket
laid upon the silk where
his body now rests
still, but cold
A breeze blows the flowers
a petal of a white rose
so soft, so pure
floats
softly
it lands near the dark spot
made by my
mourning tears
it seems so oddly contrasted
that white petal of life
and love
and that cold spot of
darkness and grief
I lean down and kiss the cheek
of a face so familiar,
yet so different
I whisper good-bye
and turn my head slowly
as they close the door
on his lifeless form
and lower the casket
into the blooming May ground.

NOW.

A breeze blows
the dark jacket
down upon
the silk flowers
made by my mourning.

The dark spot
of his cold body
That cold spot
of my dark grief
That white petal.

A still kiss
laid silently
on the soft petal
the blooming cheek
familiar rose face.

White life tears
Love softly tears
Near darkness floats
it lands and rests
A lifeless door.

I whisper oddly
a contrasted good-bye
where it seems so different,
my head,
now a lean and lower form.

But the May casket,
a close turn,
so slowly pure,
down,
yet onto his ground.

Our Word :: Week 4 Day 4 :: {sex}

Image

I.
I let you cheat me
out of the hard blue power
of my inner star.

II.
My need was narrow,
transparent sacrament, your
claustrophobic touch.

III.
Dead on arrival,
delicate road to battle.
Unwrap this silk shroud.

IV.
I paint my feet with
rebellion, let you inside.
Curiosity.

V.
The work it took to
let you love me rubbed like sand.
Farewell, young madness.

VI.
This tiger ate your
poison apple, good-bye
delicious forest.

VII.
Summer skin shadow,
these collections of atoms
burn this slope of knee.

VIII.
Wild bees in July
between the hot muscle of
a thigh made of bliss.

IX.
That old drug habit
of seeking mystic stones in
the bloom of your palm.

X.
Under sweet rain, I
wander with Greek strangers, it’s
true you can be danger.

XI.
Your naked candle
burns wishes to ash atop
your dry moss blanket.

XII.
A fish in crimson
waters, tease the thunder from
me. The dove died here.

XIII.
Don’t linger in the
yes. Swallow the whole petal,
the written word “go.”

XIV.
Soft peony tucked
in the shell of your hands, kiss
down this swell of storm.

XV.
I cut off my wing
to punish my face. I can’t
control the sharp edges.

XVI.
You sink in the sea
of my ugly words. I sink
under floes of fire.

XVII.
My mountain is claimed.
Your blood on my paper tongue,
sacrificed summer.

XIV
XIV

 

Our Word :: Week 4 Days 1-3 :: {Face} {Breasts} {Body}

I.

10
is the number at the top of the scale that started at 1 that represents the level of resistance I am feeling in trying to describe my face, this face, this mixed bag of bones and skin and muscle and tissue, all these layers of life settling down on it like strips of papier-mâché, and so here it’s a little thicker and over there it is slightly uneven and just across the ridge of my brow all my sorrow sits in a row of wrinkled crepe, but I don’t know how to write about any of that because it’s so much of who I am.

9
is how many times I have sat down to write this today and become distracted instead by my late grandmother’s diary, it’s 1948 and she’s nineteen and in love with an asshole and she wrote the word “fuck” and it blows my mind every time I see it because she was always a religious institution but here she is as human as I ever saw her and it’s intoxicating in its strangeness so my eyes keep straying to this little black book of secrets that smells just like time, remembering this girl grew to tell me the angels kissed me twice to gave me dimples.

8
is about the age I was when she broke my nose, the girl we had to live with for a while. She got mad at me and swung a heavy toy truck in my general direction and it smashed right into the center of my face, changing the way it looked forever, and my grandma once said you used to have such a lovely nose before then once and I wanted to cry, and sometimes I Photoshop the stupid bump away because history itself isn’t so easily altered and a little false control feels better than none at all when I’m having a bad day.

7
months into my last pregnancy when the dark spots started showing up — each cheek and over my eyebrows and above my upper lip like a three o’clock shadow. The medical term for it is “chloasma” but in our house it was just known as “this shit all over my face” and I kept waiting and waiting for it to lighten up and finally it did but without make-up you can still see it and it always looks like I need to shave and I try not to think about it but sometimes I see pictures taken in the wrong kind of light and my shoulders shrink up around my ears with embarrassment.

6
years ago I was approaching 30 and my face seemed so much the same as it always had but half a decade of mothering and moving and ushering in life and holding space for death has altered it so quickly that I barely recognize myself sometimes. And I used to find it frightening to look into a mirror for a long time because after a while, my face lost all meaning and it became a stranger staring back at me through time and space and sticky glass, and I am learning that aging has that same disconcerting effect of turning me into someone I don’t know.

5
is how many fingers I hold up in front of my mouth when I really laugh out loud, because my strong teeth that have never had a cavity probably could have used braces and the off-center way they’re set into my face always makes me self-conscious, and some of them are the color of old ivory up near the gum line but I won’t have them whitened because I have a weird superstition I can’t quite articulate about teeth telling the story of someone’s life and if mine were straight and sparkling they wouldn’t match most of the tales I tell between them.

4
eyes is what I have when I wear my glasses and it’s them or the contacts because otherwise the world is a blur around me – my first pair were mother of pearl and too big for my face and the first set I had I lost one and didn’t tell anyone for months because I was too scared to get into trouble, so I saw half in focus and half out for half a year. Eyes like so many in my mother’s family, the amber of a well-aged whiskey in the sunlight, a bitter brew of dark coffee under less than full moons, and it’s comforting to have her eyes, to have a lineage of color like a family tree, and to call up your mama when you look in the mirror is a powerful magic I’d place many things on an altar for.

3
is how many laugh lines bracket my mouth and the first best friend I had who was also an enemy once told me my lips were flat, and she had a full mouth like the center of a rose and a C-cup and a fat ass and sometimes during sleepovers, I’d wake up with her hand in mine, so I believed her for many years, until one day a lady behind the counter of the corner gas station in my hometown told me my lips were the most beautiful she’d ever seen, and then that kept happening, and so I guess maybe they are beautiful, a little, how they never need liner to hold a perfect cupid’s bow, the way they go lopsided when I smile with my mouth closed, how they close in on kisses like offerings.

2
is how many months ago I took an early morning post-workout selfie and stood in shock staring down at the screen, my heart skipping beats under my unsteady palm, because that face was the face of my father, and I’ve never really looked like either of my parents, but my smile has somehow become my dad’s in the wake of his death, a strange gift of genetics, the power to make me smile in a haunted face when he rarely ever managed it in life. And I showed my husband and he said yeah, so? and I was like you just don’t get it and I think about that moment so often, the first time I saw a shadow of him in me, how it was like a sledgehammer.

1
is the angle I allow myself to be photographed from. Head tilted slightly to the right, the perfect oval of my face tilted slightly down, neck stretched up in grace, turn until the bump of the broken nose is lessened, barely raise one eyebrow. And this isn’t the real me, you know, so I’m kind of a fraud, because I don’t look this way when I’m animated in front of you, but it’s one kind of me, and really, sometimes I don’t want to see the random breakouts I still get, the chicken pox scar along the high shelf of my cheekbones, the small circle of flesh in the side of my nose where my piercing went wrong, the chin that can point too harshly, the sallow skin. All the nurses said you were the prettiest baby they’d ever seen, they said. Oh what a pretty little girl, they said. What a lovely young woman, they said. You are so gorgeous, he said. You’re so fucking hot, he whispered. You look like a princess, he marveled. And it’s only from this one angle that I can ever see any of that at all.

II.

10
is two years before I even had buds, when I still went swimming with boys without worrying about hard nipples showing through the wet second skin of a bathing suit.

9
plus 10 is when we used our lunch hour to sneak away from work and park in the shaded lot of an empty green golf course, and he was almost as old as my own dad and had kids almost the same age as me and he was married and I knew it but he had the sweetest smile and all he wanted to do was put his hands up my shirt, lay hands on my chest like it could heal him.

8
days of summer camp and on the way home in the back of the church van, he reached down in the dark and let his hand creep up under a shirt that featured the face of Jesus, and second base was a familiar place for me, so I let him, and as we were unloading our bags in the parking lot later, he broke up with me because I guess he couldn’t pray past the way my breasts still felt hot under hands raised to heaven.

7
days of the week checking them for strays, plucking them out with my favorite pair of tweezers, a tiny forest of coarse hairs mapping out my areolas, and I used to shave them, a secret shame in the shower, but when I was fifteen I nicked one nipple with a razor and had to wear a Band-aid under my bra for a week, and the tweezing is a kind of meditation for me which is why I don’t mind it.

6
years of breastfeeding altogether, four for him, and two for her, and she’s still going, still needing that all-night closeness, and they have been pinched and pulled and bitten and stretched in every conceivable manner, and they’ve faced infections and engorgement and six new teeth at one time, but these things are fucking magic, they have fed brand new humans and single-handedly helped them grow and they have swelled up like boulders and lay empty across my chest, and they are talismans and scrying balls and globes that map out an entire early existence.

5
and another 5 are his fingers around them, hot breath against them, tongue and teeth and every nerve ending swelling and expanding and exploding outside of my body, a constellation of constant touch forming in a halo above his bent head.

4
pectoral muscles when we press our chests together and how solid we are there, with our hearts sharing space and our breath fogging up our faces and that very particular noise that sweat-soaked skin makes when it pulls apart reluctantly.

3
months pregnant and the way they bloomed in my sleep and the deep tingling inside them brought on by the simple act of breathing, my diaphragm expanding and contracting just like my cervix would later, and the hot way they hurt all the time, as heavy as lava, and how my second pregnancy announced its impending end by returning them to normal before the blood began.

2
ticking time bombs, that’s sometimes how I think of them. They took one of my grandma’s and the cancer came back in her chest wall and so I kind of have a space in the back of my brain that waits for the day they come for me with a scalpel and a bag of chemo, and every time I hear of an elective mastectomy, I have an internal round of applause for that woman, because that’s some hard core self-love and self-preservation, to take the things society seems to value most and cut them off and throw them at their feet just to live. And I would do it if I had to and that helps me sleep at night.

1
under each palm, thirteen years old under summer sheets, feeling them rise like small suns, shooting roots of pleasure down into my belly, and there’s a quivering along the insides of my thighs and when I close my eyes I see his face, how it looked under a canopy of leaves, skin like cut wood and sweat lighting it up like tears, and there is a rubbing and a reckoning and a prayer that comes after I do, for forgiveness, and in thanks.

III.

10
is the number of pounds I’ve been overweight for at least as many years, all of it centered in my belly, the soft folds of it draping gently, the way it accordions itself on top of my lap, and sometimes I’m okay with it and sometimes I’m not, and it used to define me, but now it only defines based on what kind of day I’m having, and that’s a good part about getting older and gaining perspective, gaining acceptance for yourself, learning to turn your kindness inwards.

9
is a single digit size I haven’t seen since I was seventeen and starving myself to fit in my prom dress, since I was twenty-two and popping pills that tore up my stomach lining like a mill machine pulling up a road. And it’s no wonder I didn’t start to get smart about shit until my mid-twenties, because it’s hard to do anything other than breathe when you’re hungry all the time, when you wake up to glass grating in your belly, when you lay down at night with a gnawing all the way down to the center of your spine. And I’ll take double digits if it means knowing what it is to be full.

8
years old the first time I felt fat and I couldn’t tell you how I remember that or what the specifics were but I know that age like it’s been marked out on the map of my life with a fat red circle around it, and I didn’t know what a thigh gap was but I kept trying to find one.

7
is how many years I’ve been saying to myself you are worth more than whatever number you see flashing up at you and it’s been a hard ass road and sometimes I run off it and sometimes I turn around and head back in the other direction, but I’ve taken great enough strides to cover the world twice over, and I can look at this body with love, with gratitude, with genuine tenderness for its fragility, with awe at its incredible fucking strength sometimes.

6
is two arms, two legs, a head and a heart, and how amazing these things can be at working together; the way these calves and these thighs are like the pillars of a temple, guarding the door under the upside-down arch of my pelvis; how these arms are steel extensions of my soul, gathering to me everything dear, pushing away anything that smells of danger and discord, lifting up babies and lovers and cradling my cheek as I sleep; this head full of a big beautiful brain and all these memories and music and the important parts of all the books I’ve read; and this heart, oh this glorious unreliable enormous unstoppable heart, how it fills up my whole chest with its beating and its loving, how the sound of it singing through my bloodstream is the first song, the best song, the life song, how if I could hold it in my hands, I would lift it to my lips, and kiss it all over, because. Because because.

5
toes and five more, stepping all over hallowed ground because it’s just wherever we feel holy, how the third one on each foot overlaps the second, the same way my dad’s did, the carved out edges of hereditary bunions made worse by years of waitressing, the nails that are never painted and have had one pedicure in their entire life, the heels that are tough as leather from a lifetime of walking barefoot. And when I put my feet in his lap, he always picks at the uneven way I cut the nails, and it has the weirdest way of making me feel loved.

4
elbows + knees and how they creak and crack and ache, and maybe it’s arthritis and maybe it’s lupus and maybe it’s fibromyalgia but either way some days they’re junk and when I get out of bed I feel like I’m ancient, like my bones are buried far beneath the earth and I’m fighting to move them through mountains of dirt and debris but some golden days when the sun shines bright through the windows I only feel my age.

3
pregnancies but only two that made it and I don’t even count the one in New York because it barely lasted the length of a breath. And my belly has grown as big as the ocean, carrying half the world’s water beneath my breasts, and I have spread my legs and given it back and given birth at the end of it, and my spine has screamed, and my pubic bone has split as an earthquake pushed beneath it, and I have felt the formation of life under the thinnest layers of skin. I have been all breath and belly and birthing hips, and nothing else in the world except for the persistent push of procreation ripping through my ribcage. I have been spread across an endless sky, dropping new worlds into the darkness and the stars. I have made life and felt life between my thighs and I am a goddamn goddess of fierce femininity, roaring my pleasure and panting my pain and feeling the pulse of life spark and spread all along my sacrum.

2
ears and how they curve in like delicate seashells left at the edge of a sunset shore, how they have four holes because two refuse to ever close completely, how I rarely wear earrings because they’re so sensitive, the way I love his tongue along the back edge of them, the shivers it sends across every square inch of skin and how I pull him to me so I can hear the heart of him right in my eardrum, so it can set the tiny bones inside shaking with the vibrations of love in the way that he breathes. How they hear the first “mama” and carry the sweet sound of it tip-toeing up my spine. The first time they caught the way someone said my name in the middle of lovemaking, how it flew from his lips and found its way into my heart like honey. All the music, all the music, all the notes and the words and the beats; and the recitations of poetry that gathered on my taste buds like birds weighing down a wire; and the gift of someone reading me to sleep, the zzz’s in all the shapes of the alphabet.

1
body and that’s it, ever, and goddamn it I love this rickety old house of sticks and straw and when the wolf comes to blow it over, I’ll gather whatever is left to my breast and set my feet on fire.

#realtalk

Truth: I woke up angry. Bloated. Mad, just MAD, mad that I’ve gained back 17 lbs, mad that I care, mad that my first instinct is to run back to Weight Watchers and start counting calories again, because it’s familiar, because there’s a comfort in it, because it works for me (until I stop.) Mad that this is all I see right now.

 

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That this is all I can feel, an almost literal anchor around my middle. Half my underwear doesn’t fit anymore, it keeps rolling down. I can only wear one pair of jeans without feeling like I’m suffocating. I thought I was eating healthily. I know I’ve been moving my ass, walking, running, getting outside and shoveling dirt. That’s supposed to be the goal, but even in meeting it, I feel disgusted with myself, with my body. My friends are getting thinner and their posts trigger so much self-loathing, so much desire to jump right back on that weight loss train, to feel that thrill of diminishing numbers. I’m just MAD. I’m nearing thirty-six years old and I should be too old to care about weight this much. So many years of my life wasted by worrying about a number on a scale. But it’s all so confusing now. Am I happier when I’m heavier and not worrying about? No, because then I feel less comfortable in my skin. Am I happier when I am dieting and actively losing weight? No, because it takes up so much time better spent LIVING. And that’s it, really. I’m mad because this is the argument I have with myself every day, the argument I’ve been having for YEARS and I am just so sick of it that I could punch myself in the teeth. GET OVER YOURSELF, self. Just go eat some nice food and go for a walk or a run and STOP LOOKING AT YOUR STOMACH WITH SO MUCH DISGUST. If only I could listen to that voice, really listen. But instead, I’ll probably log back into MyFitnessPal, track my calories, track my movement, lose a lot of weight, and then be right back here next year after I stop tracking my entire life. I just can’t even with me today. I probably should have stayed in bed.

Our Word :: Week 3 Day 4 & 5 :: {Secrets} {Letters}

Hey Self,

Let’s just go ahead and do this, let’s talk about that secret code of sad shit, the secret handshake of grief, how your secret passwords are all lowercase-no-numbers tragedies.

Let’s talk about Scott and how you’d just gotten to the age where you could do things together, and how your stupid swiss cheese memory won’t even recall any specifics of that night at the bowling alley, just shoes and lights and the clanking of a couple of lucky strikes, how you guys used to pull his armpit hairs for no reason other than he was your big brother and he let you because he was born with a heart too kind to make it through, and he always let you win at tetherball, and that time you accidentally swung it right into his nuts and he dropped like a bomb going off and you stood in horrified silence until he waved a hand to let you know he was okay, except he wasn’t, he never was, and let’s talk about how you didn’t go to the funeral because you watched the little kids, and how you had nightmares for years about his brains all over the walls of his mother’s house, and how he was there and then he wasn’t there and then he was there again but only as a giant picture over the TV and no one ever talked about him anymore because it hurt too much but all that silence hurt even more, just a big ball of hurt in the back of everybody’s throat and when we couldn’t swallow around it anymore, we kind of stopped trying and so it just lived there, strep throat of the soul, and then we all just imploded and some of us crawled back towards each other and some of us walked away and all of us said his name in our sleep sometimes.

Let’s talk about six months before that when you hated eighth grade so much and felt so ignored and invisible that you almost wished you’d have some big horrible thing happen to you so at least people could tell you how sorry they were, and then Aunt Susie got cancer, lung cancer, not even forty and she never even smoked, and for years you were convinced it was your curse, your selfish need to be seen that invaded her body and shut it down from the inside out, and she was always your favorite, but when you went with them the last time you almost ran out of the room because all her freckles had melted together and her skin was yellow and her hair was gone under her obscenely bright scarf and when you hugged her it wasn’t that familiar sinking in sensation, all you could feel was her ribs poking at you like fingers in accusation, and you stood in the shower and sobbed so hard it felt like your neck would simply snap like the stalk of a top-heavy flower, and you couldn’t even tell her good-bye and you were fourteen and too old for this baby shit, but you just couldn’t, and you curled up on the floor of the van and tried to pretend you were asleep, and they whispered above you it’s okay she understands she knows it’s hard on her, and you heard that and wanted a reverse-wish to make it you instead, and then she died and nobody at school even knew because you never told them.

Let’s talk about that girl whose name you can’t remember, the one who came to youth group sometimes and you were maybe thirteen and she was a couple of years younger and her mom fell asleep at the wheel on the way back from Florida and they were all thrown out of the windshield and she died and you had to go to her viewing and you’d never seen a dead body before, especially not one so young, and her face so still and the makeup made her look so old, and it was the first time you really understood how fleeting it all is and it scared you so much you wet the bed that night, not her, she didn’t scare you, just the impermanence of life, of everything, and several years later you were at a performance of “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames”, and her mom was sitting right in front of you in a sleeveless tank top and her shoulders were a mass of road rash scars, and you knew what was coming and felt powerless to stop it, and she sat through a couple of minutes of the simulated car accident before the sobs washed over her and she got up and walked out, and you wondered how anyone ever got over anything like that, and you wondered why she wore sleeveless shirts, and you wondered why you were even there, and you never went again.

Let’s talk about Cristy, how everything about her was how you wanted to be, that voice like a goddamn angel, and that snub nose, and how she reminded you so much of Anne Shirley, and she taught you about tanning and horses and the three of you wrote your names in the mud with summer sticks about to break from the heat, you wrote C+C+C, and you loved her the way you can only love in childhood, and she got laryngitis the day of the talent show and sang anyway because that’s how she was and she had that white pantsuit, looking like a goddamn angel, and then that call, that Sunday morning, tear stained paper with everybody’s numbers, everybody calling everybody, everybody asking if it was true, and it was, and the details were just too much to take, all of them broken one way or another, and at the funeral home, how her brother stopped talking and moving, just stopped, and the men had to carry him out, and her coffin had three birds on the silk lining, and when you rode home with him,  you put your head in his lap and that was all there was for so long, your head lost in someone’s lap, and that first night, you dreamed you heard her walking up the stairs and you were too scared to see her so you buried your nails in your wrist and made yourself wake up, and later you brought a pair of her jeans home with you, and a shirt you never wore that still hangs in the back of your closet.

Let’s talk about your dad, Jesus God, your dad, and the way he swayed in the wind when he came home drunk, the day he told you the Navy was going to kill him, the way the light slanted in through the closed blinds, the way she slapped your face to stop your screaming but also just because she enjoyed it, getting to lay hands on you for once, no taking her frustrations out on her own kids this time, no kicking her four year old in between the legs until she bled and whispered to you in the bathroom at summer camp so you could help clean her up, no lifting her up by the roots of her hair, no jumping on her son, no this time she got to feel your skin under the stinging of her palm, and let’s talk about how afraid you were of the knives in the dishwasher when she was around because you didn’t know if she would use one, you didn’t know if he would use one, you didn’t know if you would use one, and you had to sneak peanut butter by the spoonful when she wasn’t looking because you were always hungry that summer, and you had to leave that morning and walk barefoot with your brother for hours on hot Virginia asphalt and when you come back, there was bewilderment and melted ice cream on the counter, and once he bought you a belt buckle engraved with the letter “G” and a cheap cowboy hat and it was a short phase but it seemed to please him so you pretended to be a cowgirl for a while, until he left again, left a post-it note above your light switch, “good luck,” but it never was, not until so much later.

Let’s talk about 9/11, fucking 9/11 that no one can ever stop talking about, can ever stop grief-masturbating over, how sixteen blocks felt like a single breath, how you couldn’t breathe, and all that tear-streaked mascara and all those phones that wouldn’t work and Grace with lipstick on her front tooth telling us we could come stay with her if we needed to, Louie and his sandpaper palms, realizing that shock feels like you’re walking through a dream, the way you notice all the little details, the wrinkles in your white uniform, the way metal hangers smell just like the bathtub faucet, ashes ashes all the ashes, in people’s hair and eyelashes, perfect blue sky so ominous and people jumping at every noise looking up like we were all next, and that person on the ground, maybe run over, maybe a seizure, maybe a man maybe a woman, the bus went by slow but too fast for you to tell, and then you had to walk and walk, and you tied your shirt up under your bra because it was so hot and you were going to give blood but they didn’t need any, so the two of you sat outside the hospital and then started walking again, temporary refugees, it took eight hours to get from Rockefeller Center to Fordham, and a week later, you were walking again, with a different him, and he wanted to know why he got the broken you, and that was the moment you knew it was over, because you’d always been broken and you thought he knew that and it felt like a lie now, like buyer’s remorse, like a lemon law, and you went to work every day, took a train into Grand Central Station, and you looked at all those posters, all those people’s faces, all the hope fading just like the ink, and you were drowning on land, lungs full, and you left a mess behind, but you left, because you wanted to live.

Let’s talk about the first miscarriage, bleeding all over your underwear in a chair in an overpriced Manhattan restaurant on your anniversary, or the second miscarriage, the one that made you a little crazy for a little while, the one that swallowed you up and kept you down in its dark belly the whole winter and the whole spring, how you only knew for a week but it was long enough to make plans and it was long enough to start dreaming dreams, it was long enough to acknowledge that spark of life inside you that went out like a match on the wind, so quick, so quick, and the bathroom at the hospital was so cold, and it was the first time you’d heard of a transvaginal ultrasound and the wand was like an invading army but everything was already dead on the battlefield, and the midwife in her midnight blue was so kind, and there were pamphlets, and there were crisis numbers, and there was a sense of a pat on the head, and he came, in the rain, and we walked to the house together, and I called work and couldn’t even talk because I was crying so hard, and I got in bed and could forget for a few minutes at a time, until another cramp came, and I was lost at sea on top of all my tears and how it took so long, so fucking long, to start to feel human again.

Let’s talk about coming home to find her frantic on her bed, shit everywhere, literal shit, all over the green carpet, all over her pink satin pajama pants, underneath her fingernails, those long beautiful nails you’d loved your whole life, caked there where she’d tried so hard to wipe herself and couldn’t manage, and you told him to call the doctor, and the doctor told him to call an ambulance, and then she started stroking out while you were on the phone and god it was horrible strokes are so horrible and you turned her over on her side and that noise that noise she made that noise like pain and confusion and fear in one long foghorn of a note and there was frothy spit all over the pillowcase and they had to move half the furniture to get the stretcher in the bedroom and then you got to the hospital and there was waiting and waiting and waiting and then he showed you the dead parts of her brain and there wasn’t really much hope but she held on for three weeks until they had the hospice talk with us and we knew it was the right choice but you questioned it at 2 a.m. on her second day home, she tossed and turned and youhad to change her diaper and you knew if she knew she’d die right then, and you were so taken aback by her naked body, the sweet soft tuft of gray hair over her fragile pubic bone how it was sinking in a little like an overripe apple, how her vulnerability inspired so much tenderness, like a baby, and her lips had gotten so dry in the hospital that a black crust had formed on the bottom of the top one, and the day before she died, you finally worked up enough courage to pull it off, afraid to hurt her, but then you were so relieved to have it gone, to have her look human, and once she spoke, only once, when you had fussed and fussed over her and asked her if she was alright, if she needed anything, and she nodded and said “okay” and we couldn’t feed her or give her water but we could give her morphine and we did and we did and we did, to keep her comfortable, to keep us comfortable, and it started snowing that morning, and it was only the four of us and we knew she was going, and you held her foot so he could be by her side and the world narrowed down to each inhale and exhale until there wasn’t one, and it took the nurse two hours to get there, and you took pictures of her, and her mouth wouldn’t stay closed, and you still think about that.

There. THERE. Remember when you said a few years ago that you could never write unless you were sad, unless you were in a dark place? That was a lie, you were just too chickenshit to tell about the joy and the laughter and the good times because after all that, you got so superstitious, like naming anything you love would lead to its destruction. And remember how for a long time, you thought you’d had enough tragedy to make you immune to any more? That was a lie, there’s no lifetime limit on loss, on bad things falling on your head like an anvil, falling on your life like a piano from a tenth floor window. You can’t just recite the rough stuff like a rosary. But now, okay? now the ghosts are sitting right here in front of you, and you don’t have to forget them, and you don’t have to write about them, but you DO have to start living past them, you have to start writing about the shit that makes you get up in the morning, you have to stop haunting yourself. This is a secret map. Your words are a circle of salt the ghosts can’t get past. Sit down inside it and do something worthwhile, asshole.

I say that with love.

xx

 

Our Word :: Week 3 Day 3 :: {Unlearning | Renaming}

Once, I named all these things : love.

The rattling of a red metal dustbin in the wind / the squeaky wheel of a half outgrown bike under the buzzing streetlights that called me home / the flat sound of my feet over pavement over dirt over earth / the shhhhshhhh of brand new baby leaves blowing in an unexpectedly cool breeze for April / the sweet cooing of doves and the cawing of crows in the barely there light of the morning / the lonely song of a seagull splitting open the sky above the sea / the rusty sigh of the mailbox with a fat package inside / the unbuttoning of buttons and unzipping of zippers and the soft f sound of clothes falling to the floor / the bumpbumpbump of the tires on the road in between tracks on that scratched up CD / the crisp pop! of a tab being pulled back to open a beer / his first cry and her first cry and the only time he openly cried in front of me, the way the over-starched sheets rubbed together like a grasshopper’s legs / the hoarse way she laughs with her head thrown back.

The flawless machinery of her jaw working tirelessly in those early days, in those early morning hours / the small pile of snow on a vulnerable branch in the quietest moments following her final breath / the fast swooping of bats on the back end of dusk / raven wing hair under a halo of sun-dappled pines / starlight that smelled of shit and the horse that kicked me in the shin / standing outside in blackness looking inside the house with all the lights on / a perfect fork of purple lightning that almost ran me off the road / a dimly lit motel room and the silhouette of him the shape of my future / Jerome Ave. after all the shops closed up and the curbs were cluttered with abandoned handbills / four rows of painted saint prayer candles lining the seven a.m. shelves of the bodega / my mother’s steamed up skin reflected in the gentle waves of bathwater hot enough to burn / his three year old face, upturned to the small square of sun coming through the window as he slept / my face in a fogged up mirror, sunburned shoulders peeling like the skin of old garlic.

The way I’d never lick the fork when my grandma made french toast, and all the powdered sugar and melted butter would gather together in between all the tines, and I’d save it for the last bite / cherry tomatoes still hot from the sun / orange and vanilla vodka and sprite, sipped on the sly with her my accomplice / all that salt on his skin three hours in to those early all-nighters / the first few lines of that song trembling on the tightrope of my tongue / kissing the briny soft spot at the top of her head moments after it emerged in this world / Gray’s Papaya’s hot dog and a banana daiquiri standing up outside in the street / the first time I figured out I liked pickles (at thirty-three) / sharing pizza on the cold floor of the train station / fresh guacamole with my feet in the pool / curly fries and her dad’s grilled burgers and thinking nothing could ever taste that good again / the strawberry cake she made for all my birthdays / the pecan pie he made from scratch when I was pregnant just because I wanted one.

Wisteria in the middle of May, mixed way up there in the top of the pine tree we cut down last year / Pond’s cold cream on her face as she read us Bible stories under sheets like snow / L’Air du Temps in a too cold sixth grade classroom / butterscotch breath before I’d ever been kissed / sleeping with his shirt under my pillow / honeysuckle lingering in an old Avon bottle / stepped on clover still wet with dewdrops / hot blacktop after a pop-up summer storm / creaking leather and chain-smoked Marlboro Lights / half past midnight perfume in her hair at a crowded club / our bed the morning after / the green tree smell on his head when the air follows him in / her slightly dirty scalp like dust and spice and the way it made me sneeze / the hay hidden away in the dark when the sun hit it in just the right spot / the inside of the first car I ever bought / rain clouds hanging low over Callendar Wood, the trees coming back to life in the wet.

Her foot in my hand while that one breath went in and in and in / her nails up and down my back, scritch-scratching me to sleep / his nails up and down my back, waking up my heart and hips / the velvet nudging of her nose in my palm / the numbers under my fingertips, pushed down like a prayer, waiting for an answer on the other end / the way he covered me with his blanket and his kindness / the length of him behind me on lazy Sunday afternoons that lasted lifetimes / the vibration of the train beneath me / all that bass coming up through the floor and how my feet still hurt on our wedding day / the tiniest hangnail / his head-down hiccups up against my pelvis / cracking open all around her imminent arrival / the shell-shocked embrace of my brother at the foot of our father’s coffin /  his hands in my hair, all in my hair / wind in my face on the water / his hand in between my shoulder blades /  his hand in between my legs / digging down in the dirt, watching myself grow.

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