So much work to do in the next few years, and it’s not about organizing or taking back the country. Taking it back from whom, from what? I can’t identify the enemy, the target. As always, I’ll look to discrete acts, situations and callings to make my move, do what’s right in my own estimation. Others’ fears and interpretations are not my own. Yes, it’s bad. And yes, it’s good. But as my father wisely said as he looked me dead in the eyes, “What difference does it make to your life? Will you change the way you live?”
I don’t know if his words are true, right, wrong or indifferent. It doesn’t matter. The compulsion behind his words was/is desire–to see me healed, less worried, less angry, what he would characterize as “back to normal.” Normal for me looks like balanced anger, kindness, and apathy. Normal. But his urgency snapped the alarm off, shut. The blaring horns insistently blowing, ah, ah, ah, ah!, clicked off. I could not stop hating everyone and everything. My trigger-shot temper could not safety lock. I wanted to gun things down, shoot up the world.
Ironically, that’s what my father threatened to do not three months before, when his world and cancerous body turned in on him, making daily waking like a whack upside the head. He couldn’t take it one day. His cruel temper, the one I inherited, could not be culled from the near mostly normal he maintained.
So, in a way, there’s the same to do as there ever was, even before the world turned riotously dark, sinister-clownish, and despairingly downfallen. Finding my own way never was more than what I was always doing. Being part of the world was always a part time gig anyhow. Not that I didn’t march, protest or speak up. I have. I do. But I don’t have to lose my mind in doing so. That’s the way it has always been. That’s been my normal.
After turning you over a few times in my mind, rolled you under and over my tongue six or seven times, I’ve concluded you’re here to stay. And here I thought I was coming down with something, a sore throat or swollen glands. Even mononucleosis seemed probable. I was weak, tired, and lonely, mostly. “No, I must be sick. Just sick. Nothing more.”
And outside my window, the clouds patch in blue above the heavy grays, the cumuli nimbus basis for all sky matter–water. I cry sometimes. I can’t argue. I mean the oppression of having to trudge to and from that institutional hole, seething with live broken bodies, the forget-me’s of you-don’t-have-enough-buying-power-to-matter stuffed into wall seams, writhing in discard. It makes my throat swell.
So yeah, I’ve had the sky, clouds, gaps and injustice to weigh me down these past fifty odd years. Accumulated social detritus, piled in dead-skin mountains, toppling over onto my gashed coffee table and splintered carpet borders–where the dog dug up our humanity to show us what good girls we are.
When the timer goes off, I’ll have no more of these thoughts. I’ll clean a few trays, wipe a counter or two and watch the bus riders mount a sky blue-topped metropolitan half-hearted attempt at mass transit. Only those who will end up inside the courthouse walls ride. Those, and wide-eyed children believing those wheels on the bus going round and round bring them on the ride of their little lives.
Til they too find out the truth.
It’s five in the morning; I should be alone,
the only one up in this house,
as I finish what I started twenty-four hours ago,
this poetry marathon, a sleepless creative
hell of my own making, only because I have
to work in two hours and then fry myself on
a soccer field after that–ah but sleep.
She’s just around the turned corner of the morning.
But who do I hear creaking the floorboards above me?
It’s she who sometimes doesn’t sleep at night.
The insomnia came after the concussion, that kick
in the head just over one year ago.
I saw her asleep at eight, while I was on poem fourteen.
I’m not surprised to hear her stomp, stomp, pull open
a drawer, stomp, stomp, and plop into her squeaky bed.
I had forgotten how quiet the night was in my room
when she was away at college up north, playing soccer.
But at this hour, this sacred sleep hour when no one
arises or goes to bed, I lay in my bed, IPad propped on
my naked belly, the screen’s light, casting a shadow on
the ceiling while the fan blows white noise about me,
and struggle through the last “poem” of this marathon,
the final, number twenty-four, for which I am thankful.
Post script: This was the last poem of a grueling 24 hours, and as the hours plodded on, my poetry became more prose blips or journal entries than poetry, aside from the form.
So, is this really poetry? What makes a poem? Inquiring minds need to know.
We’re leaving the Great Park.
It’s a scorcher out there.
Her team just lost six to one.
She’s quiet on the tortuous zag from the fields.
I don’t think she feels responsible.
At 17, she’s philosophical, albeit a touch cynical and weary.
She carries her angst in her pocket.
“What is nihilism?” she asks the road ahead after a while.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking about how minuscule
we are, especially in light of the cosmos and
the improbable non-existence of other life, somewhere.”
I haven’t hydrated enough.
My head hurts slightly.
“Well, it’s sort of like nothing matters,
an extreme sort of skepticism,” I immediately regret saying.
Her eyes widen and the depths of velvet brown
endlessly recede, raw terror swallowed–stored in a gap.
“But it’s not just the life’s a bitch then you die philosophy.
There’s something freeing about understanding our
insignificance in the larger scheme of things and our utter
significance at the local level, where we live.
It doesn’t have to be about uselessness.
The randomness and chaos of our births and deaths–
some take comfort in the just-is-ness of it.”
She still stares out at the road ahead of us, but I hear
her thinking it over, this great question of being and nothing,
all tied in knots to her senior year of high school,
turning 18, the possibility, potential, and unknown…
she who has always tightroped the anxiety fine line.
At 65 mph, those last 5 minutes take us no closer to home.
It wasn’t easy telling her how I felt used and taken for granted,
all the while fighting self-judgment for sounding needy and guilting.
Do I tell her how I feel, even though there’s nothing she can do about it,
especially knowing that she will feel she has to do something about it?
Do I just silently accept our condition–she not relating to me, not
wanting to be with me, me wanting to be with her but not knowing how
to reach her, make her happy, engaged and connected?
She needs my money, advice and time.
She needs my permission, approval and signature.
I pay for whatever she wants and requires.
I take her where she must go, pace the sidelines and cheer her on,
encourage her, give her feedback and teach her how to live now and beyond us.
We make each other laugh and share sharp wit and sardonic smiles.
She seems appreciative for us, for all we are and do.
No one writes a more heartfelt loving, grateful text.
I don’t doubt her love, she not mine either, I hope.
She’s neither unhappy nor oppressed, just disinterested.
Tied in obligation knots, we–without violence, anger or volume–co-exist,
each with our silent confusion, angst and helplessness, resentment perhaps.
If she could only speak her mind.
Is it bullying to speak mine, a unilateral outpouring inevitably producing reactive
toxic anxiety or worse yet, guilt?
If she would shout, complain and demand, I would know what to do.
But quiet responsibility-assuming aimed at relieving me burden, one fewer needy time-taker,
a sign she’s stepping independently aloof into burgeoning adulthood, leaves me flustered.
No one wins, even when we’re not vying for an upper hand or competing in a contest.
As our relationship gestates, becomes what it will be for years to come, then changes
again, waiting, speaking and abstaining are the hardest parts.
A child grows weary and crooked in her
furrowed family’s embrace.
Unhappiness long etched lines in their faces,
Trace gashes from daggers honed by meaningless jobs,
Repetitive steps, thoughts and temple-rubbing or hair
Pulling to fill gas tanks and pantries,
Emptiness in the earning, gathering, and slipping
Through grated fingers, past throbbing hearts’ content,
Devalued and alone, lost in dreams of stopping,
Just ceasing: road-miles, emails, phone calls, pulling here
Pushing now over there, back there again, counting up, down,
Eager for a weekend collapsed– to create a moment,
Build a tower, topple a sand castle, and rub sea granules
through the sensitive skin dipped between outspread toes.
A child might misunderstand her father’s misery, her
Mother’s edges on especially rough days.
A child might suffer, sliced and bled,
Her joy punctured by worry, burden and weighty
Unbelievably unknowable interminably slow sinking
Beyond her breath-leaking life raft.
Photo: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother
the shadows perform tragedies on screen-less walls.
When I was 12 I discovered an ache inside me,
one only quelled by singing the love song antidote
in lilting swallows warbling trills at the edges.
Nature offset flame in cool wind balancing my moods
that hatched my youth to full fledged childlessness.
Today is just a day; life expels to slowly turn pinwheels.
Christine drifted away somehow. Our friendship was brief, maybe just 8th grade–and not all of it. But I remember regarding her with pleasure, feeling the oily warmth in deeply inhaling a thick smokey waft of spicy jasmine incense while listening to something folky on the stereo, putting me in that dreamy edge of sleep and fantasy. Christine distilled the essence of lavender and lovely.
I was tentative with her, wanting to be her friend too much, not for my loneliness so much as the urge to be near her, in her presence. The incandescent beauty marked by imperfection and perfection in angles; perfect white squares for teeth and the violet of her eyes were like the sheen of sweat on the lean definition, muscles of a lover’s back, sleek liquid–inviting. She made me feel pelvic warmth without sexuality.
My induction in sexual knowledge was yet to come though the advancement toward it was steaming with chance, sensation, hint, samplings, and, by the end of my days as Christine’s friend, shrapnel. Remnants of longing stayed with me, accumulating in my chest, and by 14, I was full blossom cloistered in my own dreams and sadness.
I wrote, read, sang and listened to music. Those were the black and gray years, darkened rooms, smoke, incense and fusion rock, endless albums of continuous synthesized pianos and riffing guitars and basses over long trilled scales across the length of the taut strings of the instrumentals and strands that united a heavily rocked out adolescent of the 70s. I felt. The teeming moody years hammocked me.
slivered to eighths, and thirds and halves tonight,
bitten, smothered, and bloodied, but largely ignored.
Has the moon absorbed ALL the air for its survival?
I gasp. And the battle rages outside the shop window,
the moon wrestling for light, struggling in the shadow.
Crescent beam rests on the palm frond near defeated,
gasping for a second wind before a last laser sabre stab.
And then–fade to dust, blackened sky longing, airless.
“Oh black night, I rest inside you, my Jonah, forgotten,
caged bones’ anonymity, unheard, unseen–un-re(a)d.”
Mayhem in the morning, it felt like
a kind of dismemberment of the mind from the neck down.
Nothing a silent session of steep stretching would not cure.
Sometimes sleep affects the whole day that way,
with a whisper of promise, something more like
a train ride through a New Mexico sweep of pronghorn elk.
That trip through the beltways and tracts of the country,
the clacking wheels syncing the spin of my mad days,
in orange rinds left on the porch swing as evidence of hollow thirst.