A Poem by Sharon Olds

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This poem by Sharon Olds comes from her amazing book, Satan Says.

Let me know what you think.  It’s probably one of my favorite poems out there; I’ll never forget it.

TIME TRAVEL

I have learned to go back and walk around

and find the windows and doors.  Outside

it is hot, the pines are black, the lake

laps.  It is 1955 and I am

looking for my father.

I walk from a small room to a big one

through a doorway.  The walls and floor are pine,

full of splinters.

I come upon him.

I can possess him like this, the funnies

rising and falling on his big stomach,

his big solid secret body

where he puts the bourbon.

He belongs to me forever like this, [Read more...]

Found Myself Today Singing

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farmnflea2Well it’s been awhile since I’ve written just a post on what’s up with me lately.  Maybe because what’s up is confusing and yet somehow dull to me.  A couple of great things are happening–I’m seeing a new psychologist who leaves around the bend across the lake and I think she’s…brilliant.  Fucking brilliant.  The first time in fifteen years I felt like, in therapy, “this is the one.  She can help me help myself.”  It’s good dammit.  Good.  I quit smoking.  It’s day four.  My singing voice is already almost fully back!! I’m drinking tea instead of coffee to cut the cravings for a cigarette and I can’ t believe how much better I already feel.  Right now I’ve got the house to myself, blaring the blues, some Aretha, some Richie Havens “Freedom”, some OneRepublic, quite a mix.  I feel so damn good today.  So calm.  Even with the cravings.  Maybe I’ve been so much more at peace because I’m on a right path–my path–and I’m ready for whatever happens in therapy.  I’m stronger now.  I’m willing to get rough.  After the first session I went home and cried so hard I was actually doing that embarrassing hiccup thing, because I felt so exposed and vulnerable to myself, not to anyone but myself.  I have this steal shield I use in the mirror to keep me from believing shit is hard, to keep me from believing I can’ t do it, that I’m weak.  I ask for help from no one, and I just can’t change that.  My sister was crying and asking me why I don’t open up, because it’s too much and too hard alone, and I love her dearly for it, but I just can’t.  It’s not my…style.  You get so used to handling the hard shit alone, pushing down your shoulders and making you sink a little, so you take bigger steps, you gain more muscle in my opinion.  I want to rely on myself, and learn how to do it better.  I was also crying so hard because she got so much out of me and i don’t know how, but I looked at myself, really looked at myself, and i was disgusted by what I saw.  So disappointed, yet I’m so used to disappointment that it wasn’t too much of a crusher.  What she’s doing with me is instead of me blathering on the same tired old story about what all happened to me, is we’re dealing with (first) how I’m dealing with it all in the present.  She’s taken me back to such basic steps I was

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blindsided and felt like I wanted to hold her hand because I’d forgotten the importance of ‘the now.’  Back to building blocks, which feels good because I haven’t known up from down in a long time.

Why does it still seem I am still trying to prove myself to myself? Anyone else do this?  I think of therapy/dealing with complex ptsd/bipolar/dissociation/adhd as a challenge, and I must win.  I must defeat what has beaten me down, I must not let one person own me.  I must be the master of myself.  I can almost taste it, yet I’m so far.  As long as I keep going, I’ll make it.  The longer and harder it is, the better it’ll turn out, I know that.  It’s about patience.  I’m by no means rushing into therapy like I used to, expecting results I could hold in my hands, read and educate myself out of a hole.  Oh no.  It’s more holistic than that.  It’s a 180 from that.  Now I go in and I’m like a child eagerly waiting for guidance into what I already know but can’t tap.

Another thing I realized is when you’re in deep water long enough, you get accustomed to it, and for awhile you take the rest of the punches and hits with your chin up, you allow yourself to fully feel the swells of pain that can strike, but what is pain anyways but a tool for success?  Anyway, yeah, you get accustomed to it, but then somehow, after so long, you quit treading, and you float comfortably, until someone comes along and steals your fuckin floaty.  And you see yourself, comfortably numb to all around you, your life–stuck in this swirling eddy of memories and fears and even, at its worse and most embarrassing–self-pity and complacency.  I will not settle for this.  I will not be okay with the woman who fucking sits there il_570xN.445156906_6aipanymore.  She was begging for me to wake up.  And then I wonder–is this another bipolar mood trick?  Am I really feeling this or am I on the upside of the disorder, seeing things that I will only see and feel for a short while ?  Well, if that’s the case I’ll just keep coming back to write about it.  Music.  Music is everything.  It reminds me that I am alive.  That I have a say in things, that my emotions are real, valid things that I can feel without doubt and shame and embarrassment.  I have a say in things.  I have a say in how this shit’s gonna go.  It already went down, I swam through the murk at the bottom, I barely rose, but I’m slowly rising to the surface, its a long way.  And I can look back at the shore but I’ve come to far to go back from where I came, it’s time to swim to a new shore, a new island of Amyness.  :) I can’t go back to what I was, that wasn’t living, from the age of sixteen to thirty I wasn’t living, and I’m still not, but I’m trying, and I’m aware and that’s the key.  That’s living.  It may not be pretty, I may look at myself and just think “aww shit” but I have choices and options.  I remember when it all changed–a specific point.  I was sixteen (already haunted by memories of sexual abuse and living in injustices via my mother and stepfather and the lack of my real father) and I was in my room in the basement listening to “Free Bird” over and over and I was looking in the mirror and I just couldn’t see myself.  I wasn’t there.  Just like that.  I disappeared.  This is also when the bipolar began, I just know it.  I can’t explain it, it would take  to long, but it was.  I forced myself to cry and I just stared at my tears as if they were fake, and i was a fake, a fraud, who felt nothing.  I was empty.  And I would spend the next fifteen years or so trying to fill TheMapleTeaHousethat.  Until the psychosis and PTSD hit and i went to the bin–when I completely shattered.  To a million fucking pieces.  But piecing it back together—I get to create what I want to be.  Not just what i want to SEE, but I what I want to BE, because my feelings are back in full force.  I am not empty anymore.  I think all my life I waited for the break, so I could start over.

Two Writing Prompts

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Writing prompts/Writer’s Challenge from the online lit mag The Write Place at the Write Time

Prompt 1: An anniversary can be a time of celebrations or a time of solemn reflection.  Write a story in no more than five hundred words that describes your protagonist‘s feelings about the event being remembered and how it affected their life.  Use words “flashback”, anniversary, “recognition”, and “future”.

Prompt 2: Summer is always a special time, and is often characterized as a period of transition in a young person’s life.  Imagine a powerful coming-of-age experience for your protagonist, and in five hundred words or less, describe how this particular summer changed their life forever–for better or for worse.

  (Writing Prompt 2) “The Swimlot” for Mike

They’re almost there, pedaling as fast as they can into an unknown idea.  July is ending and the small town         buzzes with campers, RVs, coolers, boats.  The highway is the shortest way, they cut across in a flash of chrome and into the woods behind Frankie’s Pizza.

“I know its down here, Amos, I know it’s here somewhere,” Mike shouts back.  They’re eleven without permission.  This is about to be the peak of their childhood, knowing too well that it was time to grow up.  But there was something special between these two–the love of adventure.  They’d spent the summer climbing the city’s crumbling ore dock, fishing, biking to the lake to jump into the waves during storms, exploring ravines in the rain, and at night they’d draw and dream and watch The Goonies, thinking about how they could chase tornadoes together.

Up ahead they see the trees thin and then suddenly it’s just water.  The field immediately stops, held back by a four foot high cement wall that runs the expanse of the woods.  At the bottom of the wall there is a thin, wooden ledge to stand on, the water lapping it in the silence.

They don’t have to say anything.  They’re sure they discovered this.  This was it.  This is what they’d been searching for–a wild place to call their own.  They look at each other, reflecting back the same glint in their eyes, the explosive joy heaving their chests.  They say nothing, but give a knowing nod to each other.

“Let’s hold hands, on the count of three!”  Mike says. They don’t bother taking off their chucks or clothes, there’s no time.  It must happen now.

The water is a cold aqua, with sun beams striking through into the deep.

She holds her best friend’s hand.

He counts “one….two….THREE!”

That second, that split second in mid-air, before their futures were riddled with scars both inside and out,  they were free.  Untouchable.  Beautiful.

Falling Out and In

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My relationship with my mother is a book in itself.  This is not a post about her or me but rather about the deep waters we get ourselves into in a desperate search for love.  All of us–my two sister, me, and my mother–desperate for love.  We fail to remember we can receive it from each other, well at least me and my mother.  You can read my poem about my mother HERE (Mama It Was Too Late) and another, HERE (70s Soundtrack).  OK, one more HERE (A Trauma Theory).  It was like so many moments, so many years, built up this moment here that happened a few weeks ago–asking my mother to validate me for her abandoning me when I was abused as a five-year-old but more-so when I was sixteen.  How she chose his side, chose to believe him over me.  I found myself pounding my fist on the table and screaming through tears “My life is fucked!! It’s FUCKED because of what you and “” did!”  After the screaming match and her denying everything, me storming out after her sarcastic apology, my sister stopped me and told us we had to once and for all, deal with this burden and talk it out.  (I was quite proud of her by the way).  My mother fell apart.  “I did the best I could! If that’s not enough for you I’m sorry but I did what I had to” (i’m summarizing).  I was so still and controlled suddenly.  “No,” I said, “It wasn’t enough.  Not for me.”  She said I hope I know what this feels like some day as a mother and I said that I wouldn’t because I would never abandon my Emma and side with her abuser.  Not a chance in hell.  She kept saying how she did her best or what she thought was best and that she was having trouble with her mental illnesses then (screaming at me like I should cut her slack for manic depression) and calmly, coolly, I said something I’d been waiting to say for years: “I don’t feel sorry for you.”  It bit at her, but she yelled “I don’t want your pity,” spitting words at me like I’m the problem, as if I’d always been the problem.  I think I’ll always be the problem.  I told her I wasn’t doing this to assign blame and hurt but that, as a part of my healing from C-PTSD and everything else, I needed validation for what I’d been through and how I’d reacted and for what I didn’t receive.  I wanted her to be there for me through this NOW and help me and try to understand what I’m going through instead of making it all about her.  “Everything is not about you, Amy!” and calmly again I said “Mom, for once, this is ALL ABOUT ME.  I’m the victim in this, not you.”  And she broke some more saying “I know, I know.”  I saw for the second time how fragile and weak she is.  I thought back to her decisions, her generation of marriage and children and abuse, her view on life, her 1970′s please-the-husband-children-come-last.  At least that’s my take.  This is the woman who, I think out of desperation, married my alcoholic biological father out of fear of being alone and unloved, always feeling like the ugly duckling, not believing in her beauty.  He was slow and a drinker.  What drew her to him?  Yet she was smart enough to leave him.  And foolish enough to marry the man that was after me from the beginning.  She was desperate.  For love.  Absolutely desperate, she was willing to sacrifice my well-being in order to maybe have more financial support and someone to “make her feel pretty” as she told me a few months ago.  Yeah, I wanted to say, he made me feel pretty too.  Ugh. I feel like she’s never known who she is, like she felt she wasn’t worth it.  Why?  Why is/was her self-esteem so low?  So non-existent?  (pause: my theme song is playing right now as I type: “Loser” by Beck, hehe).  I can’t help but feel like her spite for me is because I’m stronger.  I’ve always been stronger.  She knew I rebelled and hated me back then because I stood up for myself when “—” was sexually abusing me.  I wouldn’t have it.  Yet I was under her finger enough to promise I’d never tell anyone as she asked because I wanted her to love me.  I’ve always tried pleasing her and walked on egg shells and “made everything shine” for her and comforted her telling her what she wanted to hear because I wanted her to love me and have an ounce of respect for me.  “You wish I were dead don’t you?  Look at you!  Look at you!” she screamed as I stood there ever so calmly.  Her fears she tried transplanting on me.  She wanted them to be mine, like she wished it were true.  Why?  I said she was wrong, and that I loved her, and that all I ever wanted was to be worth it enough for her, worth saving, and I never was, and why not?  She couldn’t answer, it was too late for that answer.  She showed, didn’t tell.  I wasn’t worth it enough to save, to protect.  I was just a kid, an offspring.  I wasn’t supposed to have emotions that mattered, I wasn’t supposed to argue her values.  And if I did, shame on me.  She’s such a tough, mean, bitter shell on the outside and weak and scared inside, like a child.  And I’m trying to learn to not be so concerned about that child anymore.  She’s  a big girl.  She needs to face up to what she did and own it.  I’m not going to own her shit anymore.  And after this falling out or in, it became so much easier.  I was watching a woman so desperate for love all her life she was now angry and bitter, believing she has no choices to better her life, and she’s right back where she started as a young, weak breaking woman because she didn’t have the balls to grow up, to experience the other love in her life she was offered.  Love only meant men, as if they were the only creatures that mattered.  I don’t pity her anymore.  And she knows it.  And goddammit that feels fucking good.  A weight was definately lifted between the two of us, but there’s still so much ice in the air waiting and I don’t know why.  Maybe because I know I’ll never get what I need from her, and I’m not even sure what that is.  Love.  Worth.  Unconditional love.  She doesn’t have that for me.  Her love has conditions.  For me anyways.  I doubt she’ll ever read my essays and poetry about what I’m going through (as my sister told her to do if she wanted to have the courage enough to read it all to understand me–she said “would you read it if it were about you? and Jodie said Yeah it’s gonna hurt but she should read it if she wants to be there for me).  Yeah, she’d read it if I was worth it.  She’s so afraid of looking into the mirror, afraid enough to not put me first for once because that means facing the truth.  And living in lies is living a dead life.  I once told her when I write (she was upset because a post was somewhat about her) I told her I’m not gonna hide the truth, the truth in what happened is the reason I write, and I was in no mood for protecting her good name so it wouldn’t hurt her.  Believe me I’ve already censored myself plenty in order to protect her….from her.  My sisters and I have worked over-time protecting her from her.  She does good for a few years, and always falls apart, and we’re the ones picking up the pieces and raising her, trying to get her to believe in herself, to believe she has choices, and she hates us for it, shuns us, gets back on her feet, and is bitter.  We can’t really win.  We’re always waiting for the next shoe to drop.  Only we’re getting older.  We’re looking at our lives, and deciding for once that we matter too.  What do we have?  Fathers that left us, abused us, abandoned us, and a mother that toys with our heads and hearts but at least she never left us.  So what to do?  All we have is each other.  We have to make this work.  I have to find in myself my own mother (again) and accept who she is and what I get from her.  She’ll always think my intentions are evil for some reason, when all I ever wanted from her was to be loved unconditionally and be worthy.  I have to find my worth in myself, and that’s hard, a battle every day.

Talking with my mother now is not about me being in control of that situation.  It’s about being as honest as I can without totally losing compassion.  Back when I was being abused and she turned on me, she used to say “Amy you reap what you sow.”  Now I’m saying it to her in my head.  She’s reaping what she sowed.

Red Cape

When I was five

I used to jump from the top of the stairs

to the landing with a red cape,

believing if I kept trying

I’d fly

I’d be Super-girl

saving the world from damage.

Many afternoons, my bare feet

thudded the catchy carpet

as smoke rose up the stairs

with the patience of a coming storm,

my father puffing a pipe,

his big knuckles unharmed

from their crack into my cheek;

his eyes empty of what he’d done

beneath my cape.

It didn’t matter that there was no such thing

as heroes.

At least I could fly.

Fragile Things

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At some point everything becomes clear. That doesn’t necessarily mean a good clear, but fact is preferred over fiction when you’re locked up in a mental ward. Again. And it’s snowing out–and worse–it’s New Year’s Eve and you’re thirtieth birthday is coming and you’re little girl must be looking for you. It’s all you can do to decipher the shell-shocked woman-child looking back at you in the tin mirror bolted to the wall above your sink. Here you get your own sink because this time, this trip into the bin, they knew it was much more serious than they had originally thought, and your “security” was upgraded. You have a thought you would usually have–that the upgrade only makes you feel more nuts–but at this point, you don’t feel nuts. You are nuts. I say to myself ‘I’m clinically insane’ and for a moment I believe it’s something to smile about. When the leading psychiatrist told me on New Year’s Day morning that I was clinically psychotic and suffering from complex PTSD, I thought about my mind–clearly–for a second, and I imagined a blue and orange brain-scan image showing clouds of sick. Then I slipped back into the room , in and out of dissociating, and the yellow walls were much too close and I could taste rubber in my mouth and then the [Read more...]

Mama, It Was Too Late

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My Mother Turns Fifty (published in Third Wednesdsay Poetry Journal)

It is a sunny afternoon, the light

coming in yellow through her curtains

that cut through the smoke.

Cat Stevens feels like water inside my soul

and then she switches it to Bread

and hands me a dust rag.

I dance across the green and brown

carpet squares; I wipe the hazy walls, the stiff

yellow furniture with the green and gold flowers;

Me, Amy Jo, in 1984

speakers as tall as I am:

it is 1984 and I am my mama’s bumble bee; I shine everything

everything is for her.

She is young and beautiful and lauging;

this is the age I wanted to be her–chain-smoking Dorals

and sipping black coffee, no men for us, no fathers, no drunks

She tells me to get dirty but stay in the yard as she

folds freshly washed laundry from the Good Will.

I see her always moving, and I was a part of that motion,

that current,

that music like water.

I used to find my gravity in her eyes

Not this woman

with

this stare,

this woman

who wrings [Read more...]

Small Parts (2)(excerpts from a work-in-progress)

a possible insert to “Small Parts”  

            To a little girl, his face was the moon.  He had a big chin like that, and a heavy forehead that shadowed his large, lashless eyes.  In later years, the years where he sat around a lot and stared from his recliner into the wall, or into corners, or out the window, his eyes developed this film over them that made it look like he was crying all the time.  I pretended he was, to find significance.  I imagined those red-rimmed, swimming eyes shrunk in on themselves because he saw me—damaged—before I even knew it.  He saw my future breakdown in the very manner I fought against him and my mother.  I was stubborn.  I was a burier.  I’d dig forever to retrieve my parts, because they were mine.  But those eyes, in the early years, shone clear with one of three states: personal satisfaction, witty sarcasm, or white anger—when all’s you could make out when you turned your head to see how far back he was from you were his pupils inside wide, white circles.  When you’re a child, you’re a fool to run, but it’s instinct.  And when you can’t run anymore, you run inside, stride for stride, etching scars across your psyche like ice-skating. 

            To a little girl, his very presence was an odd curiosity.  No hands-down, palms-up.  Hands belonged in pockets or around newspapers or cigarettes.  He had a strut that made his stiff blue jeans make a “whisk” sound.  He wore shiny, black boots.  I never saw black so shiny.  I loved to watch him polish them.  I’d sit closer than my sisters dared so I could breathe in that polish smell.    

—stuck here, come back to it

(fast-forward)

            It was just after the climax of the spoken (and lied about) betrayal.  The cover-up.  The thing I-must-not-tell-anyone.  And I knew better, and they knew I knew, so their patience took a seat to their anxiety as they tiptoed around me, waiting for the dreaded phone call or the cops to arrive.  Time, even at those moments, can have a way of halting everything in a moment and making it stand-still, as if it had its own life.  My dad came outside to the deck which I was standing on.  Now this was out-of-custom because one of my given demands was that he “stay the hell away from me.”  Part of the bargain.  This time, judging by his eyes, he had been crying.  He cried a lot in those days, but I steeled myseblf to it.  I had no room for pity for molesters and pedophiles. And I was his captive.   I glanced at him as if there was nothing there, and stared straight out into the willows.  His slippers scraped across the boards and he settled at a good distance.  ‘Come on Lori, come on come and get me’ I was thinking.  What he said must’ve killed him.

            “Amy, I want you to know something…I want you to do something with your life.  You have the most talent and the most potential than in anyone I’ve ever seen.  And I mean that.  Don’t waste your life.”  I stopped breathing, speechless.  My chest hurt.  He turned and walked inside.  That was the first time in my life that someone believed in me—someone I had once looked up to and begged for attention.  For one second, I was his daughter and he was my father.  For one moment I meant enough to be told that.  For one moment, I ached for that dad I always wanted.  And then it was gone.  I had an alcoholic biological father who was too drunk to recognize me, and a step-dad who watched me shower, and a mother who hated me.  But that moment wasn’t diminished, because he meant it.  I know he did.  For some reason, no one else could have said it that I would’ve believed.

…excerpt/CLIP/the Present…

     I never quite know who I am.  When I have a long enough stretch of time where I’m in my own skin (my own mind), I feel like I have more room inside to breathe.  I think ‘So this is me.  This is who I am.  Ok, then, let’s go.’  And then, some Tuesday,  DPD (Depersonalization Disorder) opens its mouth and I fall silent in the chaos of that vacuum.  I’ve lost me again.  No reasoning or science or soul-searching or writing.  I am disabled from the pen and so I know it must be real.  Just my physical stillness and internal cavity that is crying–the cry that offers no relief, but more panic.  I see all my thoughts in a speeding parade of sentences that pour from the mouth.  Mine doesn’t move or quiver.  I can’t feel anything but this aching tiredness and piercing terror.  All thoughts without emotions, all memories without any attachment–my skin is loose and thin.  I don’t speak at these times because I don’t know the girl that will form the words.  She’ll talk in short replies in a voice I don’t know.  This isn’t me.  And I’m slipping.  Everything is false–the world around me–merely particles of matter that aren’t there–they’re mirages.  They’ll dissolve away, and leave me here, alone, to madness.  I may not return.  …Three days later, or sometimes just three hours later, it’s over.  I made it.  I’m tight in my flesh and the bedsheets are cool beneath my fingers.  Okay.   Round 967 over.  Get up.

The Nothing Caper

It came in the night. We were all sleeping in the house and I woke to it lifting my sheets; it made my nightgown bleed. My doll saw it all so I ripped out her eyes the next morning before breakfast. Then it started coming in my dreams, and I thought there was a monster beneath my bed gathering my dolls and things. On the scratchy carpet where the sun comes in, it branded my skin with its tongue, so I gave it my voice. Mother and father swallowed it up.

They found me in corners and closets and they didn’t hear their words running from my mouth. I didn’t know so I swallowed the words whole; they fed me spoonfuls of throbbing aches that echoed deep in my belly, burning my insides until it dulled and smoothed over.

I began to sweat them out my pores like a broken fever. I washed and raked my skin. Something curdled and clotted the mainstreams of my heart as I took their pieces and ate them. I choked and spewed out a doll that didn’t have eyes. Her messy dress had burned away so they stitched her a new one and kept it inside and I ran away, hungry.