Tag Archives: life

Anti-Vacation

I ran, but reality hunted me
all the way to a remote beach in North Carolina
where, in the widest water of the world,
a mother lost her child.

No, I was not safe even there
where I sank down into the sand,
a body yearning for early burial,
my hands swirling in the tide pool like
slow fish.

Peace and quiet.
These were the two words I held in my mind like a prayer,
a plea against gunfire and terrorists, trucks and Trump,
racial tension and the raping of women.
For a week, I wanted to be spared
the horrors of humans.

But the mother howled and howled like an animal,
fell to her knees in the surf and let loose
the ghosts in her throat.

There are no safe spaces left to us.
No movie theater, nightclub, city street,
no concert or lazy beach.

There is no vacation from our histories
and bodies and endless thoughtless
tragedies. They follow us everywhere,
like the eyes of a cat in the dark.

It became a story in my head then.
Where was the beginning, middle, end?
The narrative arc? The climax and resolution?
This woman could not stand on the shores of my mind
screaming forever.

I needed closure.
I needed the story.

So I turned back – because I had to know –
did she find her daughter?
Was this an ending I could live with?

How horribly selfish of me,
how innately artistic of me
to make this all about myself

but even the sun beat down like the eye of God,
because He too needed confirmation:
was this His fault?

There is no vacation from the horrors
that creep in every corner
like rats and fleas with black death
in their teeth.

The story goes like this:
she found her daughter.

But long after they were gone
I stood looking out into the dark water,
trying to make sense of its coming and going

and to find some word of comfort in the cries
of a single seagull circling
overhead.

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This is How to Live with Yourself

How do you live with yourself?
I don’t mean it like that.
What I mean is, how do you live with yourself
when your self gets up in the middle of the night,
leaving you alone with the ceiling
and all its chipping paint?

How do you live with your self
when she roams with a will of her own
and comes back to you from god-knows-where
smelling like beer and someone else’s body?

Each time she returns
she’s wearing a new face
and you have to peel your old one back
from the toothpaste-encrusted
mirror.

Do you charge your self rent?
Do you let her crash on your couch
for free?

You call her a beatnik and try living without her,
locking the doors and vacuuming the carpet
and pulling her hair from the sink.
You throw faces at the mirror
but none of them stick.

And after a while you grow lonely
and leave the kitchen window open
for her to climb through.

Like a stray cat, your self comes
and goes as she pleases. Forever leaving you
she finds her ways – miraculously, defiantly –
to return to you.

So you feed your self.
You hold her and warm her.
Otherwise her face looms in every window,
cheeks sunken in her skull
like some ravenous shadow.

And sometimes when you feel her emptiness
you panic
and turn on all the lights in the house

only to find her in the kitchen
pouring herself a glass of water.

I’m tired tonight, she explains,
after you ask why she isn’t off
on some new adventure.

Learn her name, then.
Call her what she is:

your gypsy,
your everything,
your midnight wanderess who digs around in dumpsters
and brings you back a personality.

And when she finds you in the bathroom
throwing faces, hurling them like baseballs,
she pins your arms to your sides
and tells you enough is enough.

This is how to live with your self.
Look at her, where it matters,

in those kaleidoscope eyes
which you have only now realized
seem too colorful and sad to be your own.

Today’s Date

Sometimes life is good to me,
showing up on my porch in a tuxedo
with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a sheepish grin
as if to say I’m sorry about the time I pushed you
and skinned your knees and how I broke
all my promises and forgot
to call you yesterday –
but I love you, we’re really beautiful together.
Forgive me?

And I can – this time,
every time,
I forgive life for its abuse and neglect

and when it throws stones at my window,
calling my name in some shitty
romantic gesture

I still put on my best dress
and let it take me
to the dance.

White Noise

It’s back again – the familiar itch
that tugs at me like a whining child:
when is our next adventure?

Day-to-day life is a steady drip of white noise.
My ears have forgotten how to hear
and need the sound of foreign tongues
to remind them.

Here is the voice again,
nagging, necessary:
Do you remember France?
Do you remember cathedrals
and fresh-baked croissants
and sunflower fields as far
as the eye can see?

Yes, I remember,
and I cannot breathe in this town
that is too small for me

the way a jar is too small
for a trapped insect

the way a backyard is too small
for a fenced-in dog

the way this body is too small
for the voice that pounds
all day long like a fist,
like the chime of a clock,
harsh and insistent —

When is our next adventure?
When? When?

Lost

And while you’re at it, listen to one of my favorite songs here.

I am afraid I have lost you,
unintentionally, the way I lose pennies
down sewer drains and socks to washing machines.

Where have you gone now?
What river or pipe has carried you far from me,
to where fish will nibble away at you
and mice will steal you for their makeshift nests?

I will find others like you, and I may
keep them.

It never leaves me, though: this sense
that I have lost something small
and vitally important

down the well of
space and time.

Bird and Worm

Before the bird eats the worm
it looks to me for forgiveness.

How do you tell nature it is not evil?
How do you promise there is nothing barbaric
about the way it stabs its beak into the earth
and uproots a body?

The animals were the first
masters of war, after all;
before we had rifles and bombs
they had tooth and claw

and knew how to strike a weak spot –
throat and eye and
soft underbelly.

But I was wrong about the bird.
It was not asking for forgiveness,
it was not even looking at me.

Nature, it seems,
does not need permission
to be what it is.

NaPoWriMo as Cardioversion

For Johnny, and the resurrection of our creative selves.

Today’s poem rests atop a precarious
pile of essays and to-do lists
and unfinished emails.

This, I have to remind myself,
is the important work

this: my art,
the heart of my life,
that I must sometimes shock
back into beating.

Self-Reflection Inspired by a Miniature Dachshund

Happy NaPoWriMo – my favorite time of the year! As always, I will be participating by writing one poem for each day of April. This challenge has an energizing and revitalizing effect on your creative work, so I invite any and all interested friends to join me in undertaking it. 

There is something about a dog on a leash
that resembles my relationship with God.

I can’t help but have sympathy for her,
this miniature dachshund straining against her harness,
pushing forward with all her strength

and the owner with a benevolent smile
being dragged in tow, tipping his hat to every stranger and saying
“She’s a real fireball, isn’t she?”

Surely it is absurd that this tiny creature
could tug the arm that is meant
to lead her

but as she runs to greet me,
tiny legs pumping, mouth fallen open
in a lopsided grin

I understand the animal that is
allowed to believe, for a moment,
that she is the master.

When Wood Gives Way to Water

When wood gives way to water
the structure must collapse.

No mind is built to last.
The psyche, having weathered the storm,
shipwrecks itself

and lies like a beached whale,
groaning and heaving.
No one knows why

to be human is to hurt
in the deep places

and to know when to seek
shallow water.

So when the sea has conquered the cellar
you are already half-sunk

and when the waves have raided the wine
the sailors have already mutinied.

Do not look for buckets;
nothing can scoop out an ocean
or a thought once it has
gotten inside.

Instead, drop your anchor –
drop it and feel the weight of it
leaving you

as you emerge from that wreck of
wood and nail and bone.

You will know land once you feel it
under your feet, once you remember
you have feet

and when wood gives way to water
you will know how to carry yourself forward

like the newly-hatched turtle
under the eye of a watchful moon

or the tortoise that blinks its slow eyes
and knows how to die.

Spring Cleaning

Your mind is a house with all the curtains drawn.
Don’t you know I would come marching,
feather-duster in hand,
to clear away the dirt and the darkness,
to put away the dishes,
to replace the bone
your dog has been gnawing
for months now.

But instead, you are there,
in your body, and I am here,
in mine

and no amount of dusting
can fix a rotting floorboard
or a ceiling nearing collapse.

Starwoman

When I die, remember me like this:
a starwoman walking upside-down across the sky,
boots sunk deep in the muds of heaven.

And should you ever tire of the ground,
those barren streets and bone-white sidewalks,
resentful of the magnetic earth
that grips your ankles tight

look up, then. I will be overhead
near the Northern Star
winking as if to beckon,
come closer…

There will be a bird in my hair
and windsong on my lips,
I’ll be wearing the clouds like a skirt
around my hips

that swishes and dissipates
on my way across the sky
to Bowie.

Coal Dust

To understand language, hold a book upside down
and squint until everything stops making sense.
English looks a lot like gibberish when you flip it
and grip it by its legs

or its tail, like a fish you’ve caught
with your bare hands.

If I stare hard enough, until my vision blurs,
words become an unnavigable fog.
There, I unlearn how to read,
how to pick the stitches out and unravel
words from their meanings –

to unbraid them from each other like hair
and laugh when they blow in the wind behind me.

Maybe literacy is a layer of skin you can shed
to dance again, light as a shadow,
in the fog where words are nothing
and cannot hurt you.

In the fog, you can’t see your hand
when you hold it inches in front of your face.
The mist eats the outline until you can’t even recall
what a human hand looks like
and everything becomes a shape
and everything loses its meaning.

But in reality, you can whisper fuck you, fuck you, fuck you
into a baby’s ear and they will smile up at you
as if you had blessed them.

Sometimes I think language belongs in the dictionary,
not in my head. Surely it would be nice
to forget these words:

mucus and rape and parasite.

But the language, it clings to my fingers
like coal dust.

And like a miner, I go again and again
into that terrible darkness
where it falls upon my face
like a thousand crumbs of earth,
or a thousand kisses.

Writing is About Saying No: An Announcement

dovesWriting is about saying no.

No to ideas. No to sentences. No to scenes and characters and themes that look good on the surface but just don’t fit into the heart of your story, no matter how hard you try to jam them through.

It means saying to yourself: no, you can’t leave with that story tonight because you have another one waiting for you at home. Put the drink down and stop flirting. Commit.

I have commitment issues – which, for a writer, means an innate inability to sit down and write a story until it’s finished. Lurking in the depths of my Microsoft Word files are many beginnings, a handful of middles, and very few endings.

Writing means never abandoning your story. Your story is your child. You feed your child and love your child and hold your child’s hand until it has grown enough to exist on its own in the big, scary world.

Writing is about choosing which ideas to turn away at the door because your mind can’t accommodate all of them. And if you do let them all in — succumbing to good intentions and the conventions of polite hospitality — you will starve, and your stories will starve, but only after they’ve eaten everything in the house, leaving nothing but bones on your table.

Writing is about waiting for the right idea. This means turning away ideas that might have the right faces but the wrong hearts.

But it doesn’t mean just saying no to the wrong ideas. It means saying yes to the right ones: yes, yes, forever yes. It means committing. It means sitting down, shutting up, and getting it done.

I am slowly but surely learning this. Ideas fly around my head like a swarm of doves, but I have only two hands to hold one.

I’ve been writing a novel, which mostly (for me) means saying no to poetry. And ultimately, it means that you will be seeing less of me on this blog. I will still write poetry, I’m sure, but not as much, and not nearly as often. Most of my nights for the next few months will be committed to writing — and finishing — this story.

I think I have found my right idea. It has a good face and a good heart, and though it doesn’t always say what I want it to say, it surprises me.

And for that, I think I love it.

Thank you, mywordpool audience, for reading and supporting me and my work. It’s an honor and a privilege to be on your computer screens — and one day, I hope to be on your bookshelves.

For now, I will keep Neil Gaiman’s words close to my roaming, wandering writer’s heart, and I encourage you to do the same:

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

A Wave Goodbye

Missing you comes in waves,
like naseau.

You were expecting something about the sea,
weren’t you – but we were nothing like the cresting of saltwater
or the calls of seagulls, lush and exciting.

We were more of a sickness.
Slow, malignant

but if you like the sea metaphor better
we can call it seasickness.

And if it’s seasickness I’m standing on the deck of a ship
staring out into the space where sea and sky meet
and melt –

which sends me lurching forward to vomit over the side,
violent and swaying.

And as my legs shake and my throat closes
and my lips spasm and my chest burns

I miss you.
Gasp, breathe.
I miss you.

Song of Rainwater and Stone

It was beautiful, and it was sad.
These two tastes have coincided so often
I have come to expect them in my mouth
like cream and sugar, like salt and pepper,
inseparable and incomplete without the balancing flavor
of the other.

You would love me if I told you why I cried into my pillow tonight
but for now I’ll keep these swollen eyes and trembling lips
a secret.

All you need to know is that
I was beautiful, and I was sad

and when the tears met the crevice of my mouth they tasted
like rainwater hitting stone,

stone that withstands a thousand years of wind and time,
stone that weeps with the sky.

Tell-Tale Head

My mind is a light with no off-switch.
On nights like these it leaves my body
and hovers like a ghost at the end of my bed,
kneading my sheets with restless knuckles
and staring at me in anticipation.

I want to tell it to calm down, to stop pacing,
to quit twiddling its thumbs and scratching at the door –
I’m trying to sleep here

but sleep, like an agitated cat,
never comes

and when it does,
only nudges my fingers
before darting again into the shadows.

My head is a heartbeat under the floorboards.
I grow familiar with the noise

but like Poe, am driven mad
by the drumming sounds of my own
hysterical body.

Birdseed

A stream of consciousness piece

I leave my heart open like a birdcage.
I am not trying to trap anything inside,
I am just tired of living in a world where
people who love each other don’t say
they love each other.

What is it like to not have a body? I want to ask the wind.
Does it hurt being everywhere at once?

My empathy is a drop of honey on the tongue –
it is sweet, but not enough to soothe a throat.
This world is so busy screaming its voice has gone hoarse
and I spend most of my time reading its lips

searching for the pain that is more than verbal.

My thoughts don’t fit neatly into my mind tonight,
or any night. If I take them and scatter them
like birdseed, will it lead you back to my door

which is open, by the way, swinging
and sighing on its hinges?

I don’t have the strength anymore to close it,
or to turn my back to those who knock.
I only want to hold each new face in my hands
and kiss its blushing cheeks, pink and soft
as a newborn child’s skin.

None of us asks to be born.
I imagine my not-yet hands pressing against the walls
of my mother’s womb
and falling through a trap-door into a world that is
not as warm as the human body.

I want to fall in love with someone with a heart like mine.
I want our hearts to speak through our ribcages to each other
and say, “My door is open. I will not close it as long as I live,”
because closing up is painful and wrong.

Ask the flower that, once open, can never retreat back into itself.
Ask the tree that can never take its roots back from the soil.

Like a pact, like a promise, give your heart away
and accept that it will not come back the same.

My fingers, once tangled in your hair,
will never be the same.

Tell yourself this is good, this is natural

and when you offer birdseed, open your palms
because you understand nothing can eat
from a clenched fist.

Why are you hesitant by the door
when it’s ajar

and why does a firefly in a jar
stay when there is no lid?

I have no answers, only this

door, open for the sake of
being open.

2015: A List of Reasons to be Grateful

You saw me graduate high school – standing on that stage
more stone than human, ancient
invincible and undying.

Thank you for teaching me immortality is a feeling,
not a state of being.

Then my first semester of college when I realized
the best learning doesn’t happen at desks, wooden and square –

but on the floor, dirty dorm room carpet,
sitting cross-legged with your friends
debating the existence of God.

Thank you for teaching me to listen more than I speak
and to give more love than I take.

In your waters I lost a friendship –
watched it succumb like a sandcastle
to the foaming mouth of a rabid sea.

Thank you for teaching me some things
stand at a distance but dissolve
at the first touch of closeness.

Through your eyes I saw a larger world

so thank you for Paris and stolen sunflowers
and my first time on an airplane.

Thank you for fresh pain and books
and people

and the chance to work with a literary magazine
and play in a string quartet

and for winning the “most likely to write a
best-selling novel” senior superlative

and for a new short story collection by Neil Gaiman
and discovering the band Twenty One Pilots

and for prom and a wedding and a new cousin
and an eighteenth birthday.

Thanks for all of it, even the bad parts.
Thank you for every new feeling.