Urban Jungle: Poem 18


Artwork-by-Kevin-Peterson-9

 
Urban jungle, yes literally, not metaphorically,
 
though maybe more like a ghetto forest.
 
Leading the determined coalition, is one sleek fox,
 
low lying, white tipped tail, like a log on legs.
 
Following fellow fox is great black bear, also
 
in forceful forward motion, head level, purpose
 
in his gait and onward gaze, alongside the girl.
 
She, decked in tartan plaid skirt, red cap
 
and sweater, strides along friend bear
 
among the graffiti’d concrete landscape
 
peppered with spare thin trees, once patterned
 
for park pleasure seekers and outdoor fun.
 
In ruins now, no one in the neighborhood
 
respects the land, so the conservationists
 
have taken up extreme measures for the cause:
 
the children and the animals, who will inherit
 
the earth when the mature of the human species
 
go extinct, march forth to the city council meeting
 
to state their peace: “Who will speak for the trees
 
and the bees before they’re completely gone?”

The Best of the Best (Ten today)


July 30, 2016
 

We are in Carlsbad, parked in a cool-shady spot near the beach, car lounging before the next game. The slogan of this soccer tournament boasts that only the best of the best walk through the gates to compete on their well-groomed fields. My daughter and her teammates deserve to be here…on some days. When they want to–her included—they are unstoppable. When they don’t, they’re not. 17 year olds are like that, I guess. They can taste freedom to make their own mistakes just at the other end of the table.
 
This daughter, like her older sister, I know so well and don’t know at all. Her cynical, critical eye is inherited. Her sensed, inarticulable experience of the world is inherited. Her logic, forethought, anxiety and perfectionism are inherited too. She’s more outer driven, while I’m more inner. I want to live up to my own standards. She needs a watcher, a fan and a stern stick behind her.
 
But I respect her. She knows what she wants, I trust, and will have to figure out from where her limitations come should she decide to exceed and conquer them. I give her words and a model. And while my older daughter allowed me to help her, push her to push herself, this one never has–not in the same way. They’re a study in people hood. How humans fulfill their cellular and cultural destinies–endlessly fascinating, the best of the best.

On the Eve of Yet Another


Sitting across the table from my oldest at our favorite eatery, I could not help seeing what others must have seen in me 36 years ago: a tall, lean vibrant girl with a hyperactive, inquisitive mind and over burdened sense of responsibility for the buoyancy of the conversation. 

I love to watch her gesticulating hands, the petulance in her sea green eyes and the force of her concerns and wishes. She is all youth and wonder, strength and conviction.

My own youth is like an old 35 mm flickering reel, some parts skipping in fractured movement. The plot always seems to nearly unfold just as the threads run wild and loose. Just like me to crave the missing cracks, what lies in those stuttered jumps in the movie, however slight and seemingly insignificant.

If I could make a real movie of my teens to twenties, I would splice together actual footage of all the moments, days and weeks of laughter. So much laughter. My friends and I knew how to chuckle and wheeze ourselves into spasms, once we broke the ironic smirks broadcasting our quick savvy and adoptive world weariness.

The range of emotion exaggerated on a face, the wide-open eyes in surprise or indignity, the outstretched fingers flung from the span of taut exasperation palms, I recall to fleeting memories evoked by my daughter’s questioning advice on relationships, friendships and the state of the world.

She asks me who in their right mind would have a kid with our sadly looming future. And at the peak of her voiced question mark, I hear my own 20 year old voice chiming in, silently mouthing the words with her in grainy film footage. 

If I squint my reality a tad, she is me. 

But on the eve of yet another birthday, one of those off years signaling no milestones, no edges to encroaching decades or mid-split 5’s, I find myself repeating to her: “If I could give you one thing, my most valuable gift, I would export the revelations I gained both wasting time and suffering, just to push your learning curve so far back your starting point advantage would increase the laughing years twenty fold.”

Which always draws a blank green-eyed stare of indulgent tolerance.

By the time she gets it, hopefully I won’t be mere flickering light through film base covered in gelatin emulsion. 

All Roads Lead to Anger

  
I am an asshole on the road. 

While I have never engaged in road rage, I rage plenty on the road in seething insults and strings of profanity that I cannot help but recognize as an inheritance from my father.

I always believed I was most like my mother: cheerful, determined, optimistic and rational. But that’s because my father was never around, working round the clock as he did. Come to find out after he moved in a few years ago, I am much like him.

I not only inherited my dad’s long, skinny legs and dark eyes, but also his temper. 

My Dad could be nasty. My memories soak in pools of chiding, my mother wagging her finger at her husband after yet another profanity blasted from his lips. His pet names for his wife included colorful epithets that would curdle any feminist’s blood–really any civil human being’s blood.   

My father’s vulgarity fully bloomed in a car. I drive like him: impatiently, erratically, and aggressively. All the curses I ever heard growing up fly freely from my mouth in explosions of hateful disdain on the road. I transform from human to monster. 

I know habit has a large part to do with it, but I am nevertheless surprised at the ferocity of my anger the moment I encounter a perceived slight on the road: it rises in a flash hotter and more suddenly than those that plagued me for years before menopause. It feels like a siege, as if I have no control over an acid-spewing alien cocooning inside me that bursts from my guts and spews terror. 

And when I have just spit aloud from clenched teeth the words: “You f#@*ing asshole!” with venom, I immediately catch myself, just as automatically as the words that flew out of my mouth, “What is wrong with you?!!” 

Therein lies part of the problem: not the knee-jerk flying foul language and anger triggered by insignificant, impersonal lane encroachments but the counter reaction of self-berating. It does nothing to change the reactive fury. 

Not that I condone the behavior, the lack of control in the face of something so irrational and trivial. Like any bad habit–smoking, nail biting, leg shaking (all of which I have had to beat)–the behavior masks some other neglected need, some other unattended emotion, unhealed wound, stewing conflict or ongoing unresolved problem.  

Most often, however, we seethe in separation, having polarized ourselves in opposition to those who would thwart our efforts, not only on our immediate but our larger destination–at least that is our perception.

When we lash out at the unknown ‘other’ out there in the world, someone we have reduced to a concept, a negative speed bump in our lives, whether that be the generic bad driver (or merely inattentive driver), not to mention the total road blocks–“the racist cop”, “the black thug”– or the more specifically named and reviled “woman” or “Asian” or whichever derogatorily denoted driver, we do so because we are isolated–and not just in the safety of our cars. We are closed up inside of ourselves, removed from our innate artist’s eye able to see the details of others. I know this because no one except the seriously ill or wounded cannot memorize the lines in his mother’s face as she sits paralyzed placid in her wheel chair or the dimples in her babies’ knees.  

The mind can see if allowed to.
 
The distance between us is self-imposed, learned, unconscious and/or conscious. It derives from the dis-remembrance of our primal past as cave-dwelling groups of protective survival and the ever-unfolding illusion of separateness, the change in us since those days.

Change comes from active awareness of our material being. If the scientists’ and spiritualists’ postulations resonate truth, we are all part and particle of the same star bursts, the same matter that existed eons before us, made us. Our DNA that shapes us is shaped similarly to that of the earth’s flora and fauna. Whether our individual components–genetic or nurtured–make us tall, short, dark or light skinned, good drivers or bad drivers, even-tempered or hot-tempered, we are all respiring sentient beings that matter, are matter, both divine and profane.
 
When we forget that, we other-ize, sense the loneliness of that disconnection, and get angry. And that’s okay. Eventually, we shift sight, change gears to lower breathing rpm’s, and recognize ourselves as the free-way, the one leading us all to the same exit and on ramps.

 
Photo credit:  wakeup-world.com

The Hunger

  

Silent morning crashed by knuckled knocking–

“Do you want breakfast?” he asks like clockwork.

A man who eats to fuel his quest for the next meal.
 

I remember the bed and breakfast crawl we made

visiting New England in late fall of the festival trees

the first snow of Vermont outside a barn-turned pub.

 
The magic peppered with the strafing questions like

“Do you want pizza? Are we getting soft serve?”

And we just finished breakfast not even an hour ago.
 

We laughed and sighed heavily too mocking the man.

Mom was herself then and could join in the jeering.

This man she married from birth delivering herself too.

 
Broken windows, airless in vomitous heat of rat breath

this sweat shop he worked in nearly all of his adulthood

feeding too many mouths that barely spoke to his image.
 

He convinced himself from so fateful a day–stay boxed

when only he tripped on the rug pulled under his feet

by friends joy riding days to sweet steals, jobs or dying.

 
A mind goes empty in the cabin of fear dank and dark

communing with foreign tongues, solemn shells of skin.

Like solitary confinement for 48 years, no one remains.

 
So we dwell on the asking, the feeding, breaking bread

we two who watch our center fold in on herself slowly

eking death out slow-steady for lack of a conversation.

 
“No, I already ate,” he hears expectantly but undaunted.

“Come on. You’re too skinny and you need to eat more.”

Words endlessly cut and pasted on a screen of our lives.

 
Other words fly scatter shot red-orange like those trees

the ones in New Hampshire that year we traveled miles

from my rage-ful grimace, head banging steering wheel.

 
Remind me of a father’s daughter teetered on seesaws

lifted by the weighted desire dreamed in obedient love

and grounded earth bound to shackled birthright chains.

 
Invisible strands heated like electric coils of metallic sin

knit our knotted ties seemingly eternal yet dust shallow

as we journey the branches we are and make complete.

 
The insatiable consumption of air heats the moving parts,

wills an engine movement to carry bodies across lands  

upon which fathers and daughters feed the mime of time.
 
  

Motherhood on Mother’s Day: Let it Be


My Dear Daughters:


   No letter, especially one to daughters, should begin with I’m sorry, but this one does. I’m sorry. Though regrets are a waste of time, I must apologize for your inheritance. No, I don’t mean money. In all likelihood, your fortunes are your own to make. And I know of no genetic medical challenges in store for you in this lifetime. No, this apology comes upon seeing the two of you drive off to lunch together, one tight-lipped and tense, the other tentative and earnest.


You see, dear daughter number two in birth order, you have inherited the portion of your mother’s temperament that ruffles easily when you convince yourself that another has acted poorly or unjustly or incompetently. You do not suffer lightly the effects of others’ actions on your life, irritated at the shortcomings of your fellow beings. You stew. 


To make matters worse, you can’t shake it off. When you decide to change teams and find the coach knows little more than the last one and your teammates are no different, no more skillful or intelligent or cooperative than the last, you simmer, aggravated after a game where the forwards hardly ever anticipate your serves from mid-field and so miss scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity, while the coach fails to instruct and the defense fails to adjust for the deflected offense. 


So you grouch for the rest of the day, angry at your teammates, your coach, but mostly at yourself for having chosen the team, or for even playing soccer in the first place.


And you, daughter number one, I owe you an apology for both your inability to fix your sister and your desire to do so. Like me, you feel discomfort when others display unpleasant emotions, even if  they are mere facial expression. Your sister cannot hide what she feels, though she speaks not a word or a sigh. Her face tells the story–sorry again, second born, for yet another trait passed on. 


And you feel responsible when you are not completely oblivious. Sensitivity is not your strongest attribute. You need to be hit over the head, spoken to directly, told what someone feels, unable to intuit. I gave you that obtuseness. Then when you hear the complaint, the source of woes, compassion turns to anxiety to solve the break, the mood, or problem. 


That anxiety leads to paralysis. Your mind turns foggy with the pressure to create, find an idea. And so you retreat, get disinterested and frustrated. You have no idea what to do to please her, though you try: bribe her with first choice of music in your car or chocolate or a trip to the mall. You try teasing and joking but the list of sorry-I-gave-that-trait-to-you includes stubbornness on her part as it does cluelessness on yours. 


But you know she unwinds in time, flexes her tension and exhales in release when she does, so there’s no rushing through it. The two of you cleave to one another as the best of friends, so you know.
  


Daughter born first, the days ahead bring many lessons about letting go, acceptance and boundaries, yours in relation to others. Your compassion will hold you in good stead if you never swallow it down in futility rather than acceptance: you can offer but no one has to accept. Perhaps she cannot. That is not your fault. Give, nevertheless, without the expectation of receiving. Help others because others need help, not to get results. You are not here to fix but to try.


Daughter born second, when you too learn to accept yourself, mistakes and all, your moods will calibrate, even out. Your expectations so high for yourself, you project those on to others who cannot meet them. If only you can merely see people, observe them without judging, and accept your strengths and weaknesses realistically without judgment, you may be able to do the same for others. 


The expanding pressure contracts and recedes in the exhaust of toxic release, the poison of fear–of disappointment, not measuring up, and not succeeding–whether aimed at you or others.


You both have a lifetime ahead of procuring patience, and if you get the jump on everyone else, you may discover the secret, the jewel of existence, of slowing down just as time speeds up. If you can, if somehow in cinematic slo-mo you can envision your two hands grab the big hand of the clock, just like when you were little we learned from that interactive picture book with the brightly colored spinning clock hands (blue for the big one and red for the small one) and hold that big boy back with all your might, you better the odds at beating the odds against you–your inheritance. 


Take time, my daughters, to be and let be. She who came after you needs time to work the inarticulable undulations of anger mounted on uncertainty overlaid on the foundation of fear that shift and morph like sea kelp ebbing and flowing with the tide. If you, my first born, breathe slowly, let every drop out before you sip another slow breath in, the extra seconds may allow you the focus, the time it takes for the words to come, the ideas to set you free:  “She is who she is, and I am who I am. Nothing more.”

I am sorry but have no regrets. You two embody the best I have to offer–and more. 

With all my love…
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I know you know.