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.
December 28, 2016
We missed Paris, but we saw Barcelona. Well, we didn’t see much of Paris, arriving late in the evening, just enough time to grab a bite and walk the edges of the Latin Quarter a mite. But Barcelona, we saw its night and day. And though we opted out of the nightlife bar scene, we did tour el centro de la ciudad, walked a good swath of the city from Barcelona cathedral to Sangria de familia cathedral, and spent hours admiring Picasso’s seemingly endless transformational creativity at el museo de Picasso.
We rest heavily, sinking into the cushions of our bullet train seats to nap, write, tune out and glance out the window to see the pastels of fading light cast over the Pyrenees. Over eating, over walking and over sightseeing depletes us like the satiety of a sumptuous meal oh too much. We smile in our pain. That sums up the entire trip so far for me.
It occurred to me upon taking a certain step down an unknown curb on a forgotten street in the center of a city recently eye-soaked that there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s my life. Had I encountered half the snafu’s we did on this trip back home, my blood pressure would have ripped my skull open in a gusher of anger and frustration. I’m thin triggered. Not always, but too often. And nothing truly ruffled me this trip, despite jet lag, sleeplessness, homelessness and digestion disasters.
Maybe I’m finally there–finally. I’ve reached the center of where it’s at and glimpsed what it could be.
What shall I do when my skin pickles and my mind dries splintered?
I won’t stare into dirty window panes.
What shall I do when my eyeballs glitch shudder open-shut, right to left?
I won’t run, slaughter, spin out, or crash in stupor-ful grim.
Where shall I go when cars slam openings cabin space so tight it pierces skin?
To nowhere regret drives home.
How shall I survive the sandwiched time of somatic stares and twitching sleep–
unparalleled movement unceasingly on?
By leaving love notes in your lunch box and writing letters home.
Why do we contrive without power un-surrendering ourselves to the perpetual?
We won’t let the wheel go, let the world spin a’wheel.
Which is in? Which is out?
When will the uncleaved door bend, ope-crack and whistle in the sizzling windy train of space,
belly breathe hoary air eons long, trellised and clinging to cilial body, shivering sensoranticipatorily?
A room in this old house, holds history–
mine, yours ours and theirs.
This room is where I sleep nights;
it’s where I awaken each day to
slatted light from vertical blinds
that open to a window laden with
orange tree leaves and ripened
fruit, the color of the sun setting
on the Pacific not more than a mile
from this very room in this home.
Its cornflower blue walls contain
my thoughts and prayers, my
ujjayi breath, sometime despair.
This oaken floor steadies my
bare feet, wears my yoga mat,
including the cat on top who
skrick scratches her claws in it.
But it wasn’t always my cave;
it belonged to others before me.
Two nieces slept here, the last
who chose the wall colors, and
the one before who now sleeps
in my parents’ home, while they
sleep in mine now, in their room,
which used to be the play room
for loud television shows and toys
and kool aid colored couches for
friends to jump on and destroy.
And before that, it was the bedroom
my husband designed and had built
by a friend who charged too much and
stole his baby grand piano on pretext.
And before it was our bedroom, where
our children were conceived and I
labored in our big blue sunken jacuzzi
tub beneath the bay window and lime
stone tiles surrounding the midnight blue,
it was an office converted from a garage,
where his business began selling hardware,
which eventually turned to software and an
office elsewhere, which he sold to find
more fulfilling work, which he still seeks.
But when my parents moved in, we moved
the bed, desk, dresser, night table and lamps
into my room, the room I share with no one
except the dog, a few cats and the constant
turnstile traffic of inquirers and visitors living
in and outside the house, my room, the hub,
with its Picasso print of woman-dove face in
black and white, who resembles my oldest
daughter even though I bought that print
twenty years before her birth, and now that
she’s twenty herself, she tattooed that face
on her left arm, just like it appears on my
bedroom wall, above the hand painted
poster that asks, “Is there no way out of the
mind?”, purchased and overpriced by a
friend of my daughter’s who painted and
sold it to me after she returned from rehab.
And the Van Gogh with the gilt frame, huge
hanging above my bed, well that was a gift
from my nephew when he was only 23, and
he knew I loved art and so wrapped this big
old Starry Night print and gave it to me, so
that’s why it’s there framed above my head,
garish and cliché but sentimentally stationed.
Because my room holds pictures of my girls,
and a fan that cools me summers and a
heater that warms me winters, and dozens
of ceramic boxes and knick knacks and the
remains of my jewelry box, what wasn’t
stolen by someone who knew the dog
well enough not to get bitten as an intruder.
This room holds hours of frustration, and
ideas, poems and graded essays, years of
reading and writing, drawing, coloring and
crocheting, fretting and forgetting, crying
and laughing, the entire history of a house,
its inhabitants, furnishings, we call home.
Like any other morning, I wake up to muffled door rattles or slams,
And the crystal plea of a squeezed bladder–release, sweet release.
The blinds drawn and the clock radio dead for a few years now, I reach
For my phone to check the time: the usual 6:38 a.m. flashes retinally.
Taking inventory, I listen for a high schooler soon to fly out the door,
Perhaps her older sister stirring in poor sleep or kicking the disruptive
Cat out the door to purr in someone else’s ears, perturbations unleashed
For those battling anxiety and depression: IBS, TBI, PMS and US politics.
Challenging gravity’s rest, I aright myself and further assess the day’s
Bone placement as they all align, sink and press in allotted pegs, dips
And slots, and all measure properly without incident or undue notice.
My body has not joined in some stealth overnight rebellion for unpaid
Dues or sins of my youth just yet, and I take my first steps into morning.
Upright, leaning into space opening up to the bathroom door a mere six
Steps from my launch, I begin to feel it: the heaviness, not in step or
Weight, but an anchor-dragging shadow that resists verticality from
Scalp to balls of the feet, slowing the advancing doorway to a shuffle.
I know I’m already late, but the excursion’s effort, to pee and back,
Begs my re-bedding just for a hair’s breadth of a moment, I bargain.
Soon, the phone or entry door will vibrate with his questioning call or
Needy knuckles, reminding me that it’s time for his intravenous push
And his diabetes blood check and his arm wrap for his shower and his
Pill box re-filling as it is Monday: the array of multi-colored, go-gemlets
Shaped like candy paper dots or pez ovals popped out of a clown mouth.
The anchor widens and grows tentacles, linking chain to arms and chest,
Pulling down shoulders and the corners of eyes and lips no breath can re-
Vive, no gratitude check can lighten and release like an emptied bladder.
I glance out the now-opened blinds at the orange clusters in threes and
Fours, heavy with juice, hanging impossibly high at the thinnest branches
At the top, mightily fighting, irresistibly drawn downward while floating
The resistance between soaring, maintaining and falling: mass, space and
Time–all illusion, as is this overwhelming dread and angst that will dry,
Crumble and dust, blown into an afternoon breeze that kicks up after June
Grey dewy mornings drip, clear and stiffen to bolster tender leaves against
The love, need, hate, and anger over their circling heads tethered to a sun,
The same star that guides ships, unanchored, daylight drifting or swiftly
coursing waters tumultuous and calm to destinations charted yet unknown.
Another rudder-less morning steering me blindly, I have survived the first
Passage and make my way to the door, enjoying the last five, quiet seconds
Before the physical proof meets the prescient mood, while nothing is wrong.
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.
With fever and chills, my father lies in a hospital bed and
fights invaders ransacking his cells while we, her dad and I,
Share ancestral history over wine and braised Brussels sprouts.
Her father pulls out an album of black and whites painting shades,
Faces that look like his and hers, she who hungrily leafs through
Her fore-figures shepherding precious genetic messages, DNA,
Carried on lines like cargo bins rolling down mining tracks,
Straight to the mountain’s core, our heart’s beating back minutes
Through rock and river, rice paddies and leper camps, continents
And decades all swum, waded through generations of race, religion,
Geography and cultural diaspora, lost at sea; my people roamed.
I tell her we were gypsies and exiles, imperialists and colonizers,
Journalists and piano-tuners, soldiers and artists, musicians
And doctors, lawyers, painters and prisoners; we sailed on ships.
She eats the images page after page flying and flashing ghosts
In pressing drive, primal ranging expansive lust for connection,
An answer to why she is, these cellular haunts flooding her veins.
She wants to know the stories that she belongs to, her threaded
Braide-links to French, Spanish, Vietnamese, Rumanian, Russian, Latvian
and German world walkers. She doesn’t know yet, which link connects them all,
all the grandfather’s fathers and their fathers’ fathers before.
She doesn’t know the whole story and she can never know.
From Mother Goose nursery rhymes chanted to childhood,
Singing me through my days in silly lilting jibberish tolling tales–
Mesmerizing wispy wild figures sticking thumbs in plum pies
Or eating mystical morsels named curds and whey on a tuffet.
Then in college, I pined for the secret to unlock the hearts of
Spanish, French and Russian poets, painters and culture magicians.
I cracked the code to some, forming strained lipped sounds,
Writing winsome words in chipped or open gullet accents or
Symbols to sounds unmade, unimagined and click ticklish
until I could not remember my own tongue.
But after college, language tore at me, ripped me up
And left me dull, licit and languishing in legal triangles,
Endless geometry of angles, degrees and lines.
The law sandpapered language across imagination’s landscape,
Smoothed my edges in deeper, rounder archetypal paths, pregnancy,
Until I lost Octavio Paz’s meter sanded out in childrearing recipes
Swapped with Guatemalan nannies.
Pellucid sentences peeled off like shredded wallpaper skin,
Their luster gone with a youthful jaunt, hop, gleam and trigger,
Flashed in skipping stones, falling in love and hopping fences
Round speedways, parks and wood clearings where music moved
Us, loins and feet to primal noun-less, soundless speech,
Just to see, get a glimpse at lip-sung words beyond the barriers,
Risking liberty and future, impelled by lusty mischief and rush.
Back then, I had to hear them sung in tune-ful missives keyed only to me.
And now, the remaining hash of come and gone, bright and dark, transforms
Acidic intestinal stew to sorcerer’s clairvoyant elixir: my gut tells me.
Among the clamorous hate-filled speeches and cautious creeds non-offending,
Blasted in soldiered lies and political stomps, and on uncivil, anti-social media,
The gurgle steels me listen to us, be your pain, own my heated core as if it were
The world’s sole lingual ignition; the ravenous merging urge to swallow me up,
The kind you write in erotic type and imagery possessing, owning my pulse–
These are mere smoke signals, the wink-less language of I know you as I am.
In the aftermath of lived language, word dross, let us, you and me, tutor empathy,
The Esperanza of human kindness, re-remembered swish and slosh in thickish silent
womb–connected to another’s rhymes and rhythms, as the song.
I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think interior decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves – Anna Quindlen
Over jack fruit tacos, fresh chips and salsa and pumpkin bisque, she repeats the urgency to me. “At my age, I feel I should be on some path. I thought I had one, but now I don’t know what to do.”
She is 20. Her eyes glimmer the sea’s green under the sun.
“Maybe you’re already on your path,” I offer. “Searching and yearning is a path you return to periodically throughout your life, I suspect, judging from my own. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
She dips a chip, swivels and scoops the salsa to her mouth, chewing and thinking.
“No one gets how interesting it is that the same Aussie passes by the same spot outside the store each time I work.”
She’s off on a new topic, obviously.
“Or that the old dude with the baggy pants and dead cigar, who sits on the bench watching people go by is not creepy, just lonely. No one finds interesting the same things I do. No one even notices the same things I do. They just look at me blankly, like ‘I don’t get it.'”
Maybe she is not onto another topic after all, I think, and say to her, “You have the eyes and notice of a writer. Perhaps you should write.”
I smile inside at the thought–of her writing, of her at 20, and of her as my daughter. Her terrible beauty in striving splashes coolly recollected imagery over me of the shadow passion of a younger woman, far less stunning but more deeply driven. I too wanted to know my path back then, a college student looking for purpose and love and hating both, the need for either. I too was unable to see the road under my feet for my eyes focused farther down the way.
I mindlessly bring a chip to my lips and the crunching disrupts my musing. Watching her animated face, her lively expression full of open mouth laughter and wide eyed indignity at the passing observations, wishes and gripes she tosses out over half eaten tacos, I marvel at this bundle of gesticulations and well-spun tales of friends becoming strangers and strangers turned friends, this woman of my making with well-chosen words to help me see.
I see me and not me in her at 20. I only hope I was as engaging and fascinating a lunch date as she.
That trip, a peculiar humid mixture of venality–yoga and sexting–changed my life. I left some part of my former self in Costa Rica. I felt amputated, as if a piece of me was missing when I returned. This haunting continued for many months afterward, a sensation like I never left the Carribbean, where I spent four days detoxing the poisons of a lifetime of accumulated dissonance: misdirected dives into careers and relationships that formed an image I believed I was–not who I was.
On the fifth day, I descended from the jungle bungalow where I lay hammocked asleep with a book on my lap, recovering from four yoga classes a day: sun rise, late morning, late afternoon and late evening. Only on that day, my fiftieth birthday, after a morning yoga session spent weeping to the chant inside my head: “Where have you been? Where are you going?” did I go to the tiny boat village to dine at a local restaurant and wade in the clear waters of a native beach. Only then did I join the rest of the sea hut world layered along the shore, leaving behind the longing lover living in my phone, the headphones of seclusion, and the drowning jungle chorus of howling monkeys, cicadas and neon frog-lets.
The colors of the rain forest in phosphorescence glittering on the wings of giant blue butterflies or on the backs of lightning flash lizards delighted me as much as the colors of flesh, lips, hips and hair of lovemaking in my imagination. On a life-shift trip, I turned around.