Hurt, in Space Black

This is a poem about the night I painted my writing room completely black, shortly after I admitted myself and spiraled out.

I hurt myself today

to see if I still feel

I focus on the pain

the only thing’s that real

Out there, just outside of town, the frozen

snow-a crystallized ocean in the moonlight and icy stars,

their white heat, their white bodies

still against the night’s sheet of winter.

The land a bald moon out the window, the birch trees

black past the fields.

I am painting. Strokes and rendered slides of the brush,

steady, steady focus on the many canvases…

dip, skim,

into “Space Black” the gallon reads.

The old familiar sting

try to kill it all away

but I remember everything

I paint my reflection onto the white walls.

My fiance and child somewhere in the house

maybe asleep. Or not there at all.

Bald white planet out my window,

I trace my eyes and lashes in ebony lashes across

my computer desk. The

white lampshades. The

white picture frames. The

white bookshelves. The

white ceiling and trim. The

white woman in the dark. Voices come at night. I am afraid to sleep.

What have I become

my sweetest friend

everything I know goes away

in the end

My history I remember smooths past me

in a narrative I watch with each brush stroke and stride.

The story, what is this story, I do not know, but

my hands are sweating like they do

in the essays that pour out for my next class

in the morning.


I paint faster. I feed the temperature.

I cannot see me in the mirror anymore.

But I never could, I calmly mouth the words

“I never could…” up to the corner where the walls

meet the ceiling. The

white is almost gone. It must go. The lighting

is changing, hiding me, I hear the dryer’s tumbling

has stopped. But the sun it can’t come out.

I can’t.

I take sanctuary in night. I paint the girl

from my childhood who dreamt of being a singer.

I paint the young woman who stopped feeling in front

of a mirror one Sunday after church. I paint the young woman

I wear this crown of thorns

upon my liar’s chair

full of broken thoughts

I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time

the feelings disappear

You are someone else

I am still not here

high on ecstasy on the rooftop of a building downtown

in a city I couldn’t get lost in no matter how I tried-and

how she was afraid the control she had been losing

she would lose at that very moment, above the far-away

pavement. I paint how

she never lost that part though, just all the rest.

All the empty pill and booze bottles, amphetamines and cut coke.

I paint her father’s death. I paint her mania. Her depression.

And still, I cannot frame this piece.

I can’t figure out what all this black means,

all this vacancy. I just don’t want the voices

when my eyes get heavy. More.

I just don’t want to wake up and have to take care

of what I built of my life with these numb hands,

Because I am


I am painting

it away and darkness ahead, behind, and now, it’s all I see.

You could have it all, my empire of dirt

I will let you down

I will make you Hurt.


Hymns for the Broken

Listened to Luis Alberto Urrea’s podcast at Tin House “Hymns for the Broken”

and I didn’t know how it affected me or any of my feelings and comprehension until after writing this post.

Grapeling–this post is because of you; thank you for taking the time to

making my feelings finally emerge and surface. It’s been a while. 

I told myself if I had nothing, that’s what would come back. I spent too long after filling my hands with what I thought I could keep, only to find that what was within me was beneath the soil, deep in bones. All I had to do was stop. Stop giving myself away.   –me, this morning

“Don’t you know–everybody’s broken. That’s what makes us holy.”  –shaman in Mexico


“–and those bad men that tell you to be ashamed…take their drills, look for the scars to re-wound you–But she says ‘we kiss you upon your scar to show you you’re beautiful.” –Luis Alberto Urrea, on the Tin House podcast “Hymns for the Broken.”

Write with purpose. Reach out to me. I need you. I am stripped but not afraid. 

I write to take my own hand and lead myself back out into light.  That is a line from Urrea’s Hymn. He goes into a story about being the misfit, the out-of-place one, the outcast–taken away by guardians into abuse and ultimate shame. This, as he goes on and his voice rises, is why he writes–because a part of him is always going to be in that chair. And I’ve been reading up a lot (for quite a long time now) on finding one’s worth, your possession, the bones of your gut, the mother you are to yourself. And I am taking in and letting go so many things, so many past and done parts of myself that have had their time and I will not retrieve. But I am retrieving the indestructible parts I am made of. And I gotta say, it’s fucking emotional and I didn’t even know it was until Grapeling commented on “Reflecting” –you know what he said? I’m going to cry again. See, I’m so good at shutting off emotions still, that I don’t even know I am until someone says something so beautiful and real and almost painful, and reminds me why I am here; why I write.

He said: “Amy, when I read your work, it reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s line – ‘there is a crack in everything -that’s how the light gets in.’
Peace ~”

I looked away, and then read it a hundred times. And put it down again. But it followed me all night and morning. And there I was listening to a fellow writer and survivor’s podcast and he quoted the same Cohen line. And I was suddenly sobbing. Because Urrea then says about himself as a child: “I’m trying to write for him, but I can’t do it. I need you. I can write for him, but you know what I can’t do? I still can’t take his hand, I can’t lift him outta that chair because I’m still ashamed of him. Shame. They teach it to you…for ‘your own good’…and I propose that anyone who changes you–anyone who betrays you, anyone who gets out “the drill” for you, anyone who leaves you, because you aren’t good enough?–is an ASS-HOLE.”

I haven’t been writing but thinking a lot lately, living a life lately. Working in a women and children’s shelter where mostly I feel good about what I do there, but sometimes, like last night, I couldn’t shake it off. I couldn’t not bring it home with me.  What I am talking about is awomen all over the world in these situations though. Because what can happen mirrors what happened to me on a very deep, personal level. In the one of two areas I haven’t figured out how to heal from yet. And it’s hard my friends. It’s very big, the biggest thing yet, but the difference is I am able to stand, withstand, and remain steady at the helm. I have become captain of my own ship. Finally. And I don’t want to lose that. But I prove to myself not on purpose but by the cycles and rhythms of my nature that I won’t lose it, that yes I am cracked and sometimes those cracks feel like land mines or crevasses and I am on the mountain about to get swallowed up. And I wait. And I continue with my life. I find joy and sorrow in a forming balance. And getting swallowed doesn’t happen. These words I must tell–my story I must tell–is changing shape. I am changing. And the facts are there are some things you don’t recover from, there are some things you can’t get back anyway–and you do not “heal” in the sense you’d think, you only learn to adapt and live differently so that you not only survive but you thrive. I never meant to write to let light in. I never knew I could–and I’ve heard it once or twice before kind of, but I tell you I can only write what I know and it feels very selfish. Very egotistical. But I also know that right now, there is a girl the age I was when I was shamed and ashamed and wounded, and she’s at the bottom of the mountain not knowing where the ledges are to clutch her little fingers to. And I am writing this for her spirit that is about to break. And there is a young woman who will disappear soon, and I write and I pace and I outline and I take notes and I feel everything I can through my own forms of grounding and meditation and calm.–I do this not for me anymore, well I do it because it’s like the beast or birds in me that never sleep, it must be said and said well. But I do this for her. I am honoring what she is about to experience. I am honoring her suffering. I suppose this is my Hymn for the Broken.

I wish I could meet these girls and women–before, during, and after. And there’s nothing I could say to them, accept that there is love. You will survive, I command it, because you must feel this love that is at the end of that road–whether anyone loved you or not, you loved yourself, because you didn’t give up. You must hang the hell on without knowing why. But hear me. Amy

The Center Can’t Hold

The sun has set and I am standing on the back porch, leaning over the railing.

I hear the screen door creak, his heavy boots sliding.

“Are your friends picking you up tonight?” The nicest question he’s asked in a while. He’s imploring about non-essentials. Something is coming. A faint alarm spins my gut.

He leans against the house under the yellow glow of the porch light and I turn so my side is toward him—I don’t want my ass in his view, and I can read his body language this way. His arms are crossed over his plaid belly, hands under his armpits. He’s nervous.

Hesitating, “Amy, I want to tell you something.”

“What? ‘Is Jeremy going to be there?’”

“No. I trust you.”

Silence. The crickets are loud this spring. I hear the frogs mating out back behind the pole barn. Beyond the tree line, a semi’s headlights float.

“That’s a surprise,” I smile weakly at him. He smiles back and makes room for himself.

“Amy, what are you going to do with your life?”

My smile ends. I look down at Kurt Cobain on my black t-shirt, and hear ‘nothin’ on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds!’ I look into the railing’s grain.

“I don’t know. Why?”

I cannot fully absorb this question.


The atmosphere has changed; I feel my body instincts alert my senses… but this pressure is different—his presence isn’t to harm right now. His voice is closer, but he is not.

“I want you to know something—something I think you need to hear—you have so much potential in you, Amy–so much more than in anyone I’ve ever seen. You’re talented, you’re smart, you can do anything. There are so many things about you that you can use in this life and you don’t even know it.”

I turn my back to him and watch the tear seep and spread into the wood. Come on, Lori.

“I just wanted to tell you that, because you don’t know. Because you act like you don’t care. Because I see you wasting your talents and time and you’re so…I…”

The pressure is starting to push itself down on my chest and make way for something I am not ready for—to look at him, to see him, to hear his words as human. He wanted to say what I’d chased after from him over a decade ago, on that nappy carpet, me crouching behind the owl lamps, spying on my new father, giggling until he turned his greasy nose in my direction and blew smoke in my face. My wet hair, my itchy nightgown stuck to me.

And I felt a forgotten piece in me move-an isolated bubble in my chest rising—a shape of a silent center I can’t quite feel, and then I felt it start to grow into a globe–a planet–a world of loneliness, the ocean where I had sucked up all the silences in the shell of what I was becoming, the land masses the million faces I was dividing into, shifting each continent of myself either away from or crushing into each other, dismantling. Only the beginning of how I masterfully destroy. But that anger doesn’t bubble up here. It is stripped away, and so is my guard, and in that slip of a bare moment, a kind of shared sorrow I’ve never heard of floats between us-I saw it. I’ll never forget what I saw in him that night under the porchlight-a shame and grief so deep, so big it cut through me into that lonely center. I saw him saying he was sorry; almost as if he were saying leave, get away from here, this is not meant for you; there is nothing that can be done to repair the damage I have done, so I will give you away. Maybe you’ll make it. Get out of here.

My sorrow is him. All I had ever wanted was him to love me. I wanted to be his daughter. All the years of my girlhood spent in the dirt in the garage watching him with engines and tools, pretending I liked Deep Purple, asking what a socket wrench was, who was Led Zeppelin, how do I bait a hook…and he couldn’t love me like that. And he knows it. And I know it. And that very fact hangs between us like a breath on frost. The shared sorrow from opposite sides of the ice.

This center he had pressed, it is the only thing left I do not hate about him. And I have denied that center ever since.

The moment passes and I remember my defense—that he is despicable. That I was naïve for allowing this. I thought I’d fear him looking at my body again—but my chest is hurting, trying to swallow that earth, that world, that small center I cannot hold.

Beneath his sickness, beneath his ghost-like existence, beneath his perversion and depression, there is something in him to speak past all that, step on what pride he had left, to tell me what he sees in me-as a human. As a person. Maybe he wanted to, as a father, give me something no parent had ever given me—hope.

I can’t look at him anymore. I cannot bear seeing someone in so many pieces who has broken so many things there are no words.

Headlights, then bass. “Lori’s here.”

“OK. I just wanted to say it. Have a good night.”

“Thanks,” I say without looking at him and trot down the steps toward the car, heart pounding.

“Hi my Jo-Jo Bean!” Lori smiles, her bouncy self turning down Tupac and putting the Buick in reverse. Night slips around me, the only light from the dash. She hands me a cigarette.

“Hey turn that up,” I say and smile. As if nothing had happened. As if I could forget this.


The sun is bright in my windows, warm in the curtains. Spring blooms outside the glass. I am content in my life. And this song plays, Hurt, and an old pain comes back, overwhelming in these lyrics. I still hear his voice, strange, how you don’t forget the voice of a loved one that died. And his smell.

The facts are I spent my life hurting him. I hurt him bad. Because I thought he’d live forever, as we all hope parents will do.  I wanted to because I told myself he was an alcoholic, so he wouldn’t feel it. Because I told myself it was his fault I wasn’t safe at home with my stepdad and mother. Because I was so screwed up and had so many bad memories I couldn’t place, so I placed them on him. I’m sorry dad. I’m sorry for blaming you. Even when I broke into your house, your room I found upstairs shocked me, stopped me from breaking things, because you had pictures of us up on your cracked walls, because you had our letters from when we were little in a pile next to your bed, because you were so poor and alone, because the tape of me singing Patsy Cline when I was five was on your nightstand, because the same old blankets were on your bed from when we were little and spent weekends with you. You lived in your car for awhile, and I’d walk by it all the time and look in the windows. All the times I’d see you walking downtown and I’d ignore you, look the other way. The time I found you and yelled at you for hurting me and what did you do and you were so gentle and kind, asking me what was wrong. That was an opportunity for me to be held by you, and you would have, but I missed it, I was so angry, blaming you. I didn’t tell people you were my dad, because everyone knew you were in the bars starting at ten in the morning. Old Style, that’s what you drank with Pa out at the dadandusfarmhouse when we were little, and you were so gentle and shy. And after you died, my sisters and mother and I had to go through your house (we didn’t know where it was) and pick out what we wanted. We were 20, 21, and 22. Your house was empty of everything except garbage and old pictures and beer. Not even towels in the bathroom. It was cold. It smelled. Your mattress didn’t have sheets. We were numb and cold too. And then we opened your closet, and we could smell you, as if you were there and we were those little girls again, playing at your feet. We took out your shirts (the same ones you’d had 17 years ago) and buried our faces in them and finally wept for you. Our own private hurting, I remember smelling the shirt and crying into it, with a whirlwind of thoughts in pictures going through my head–how I’d wanted you to save me, how I’d wanted you to be my daddy, to be the parent I didn’t have. What I didn’t realize until then was that you had always tried, you’d tried so hard. But you were sick and always drunk in a sad way, and it wasn’t enough, like it wasn’t good enough to allow you into our lives, when really we needed it. I’m sorry. You were good enough, you were. You were more than that because you loved us, because the hurt you caused us didn’t compare to the pain our stepfather caused. And at times, our mother.  Being in your house before the funeral, it was so hard, it was such a sad, lonely, awful place. No place for someone as gentle and frightened of the world as you to live in.

We have always felt like forgotten children. With all our parents. That pain is bigger than anger.

It makes you a very lonely, it makes you feel unlovable, it makes you seek out love in places you don’t belong, desperate. And then you died, and we had to swallow our own choices. And we were the ones, even though we were the kids, that forgot you. And that’s what hurts the most. We carry this guilt, and being in your desolate, beer and memory buried home reminded us that you were human, that you had feelings, that you loved us, all those letters by your bed, our school pictures wrinkled in your empty wallet. You were our dad. And you were so far gone in the alcohol and it had you by the throat, it was too late to escape. And you tried so hard to. You showed up at our house crying because you wanted us back, we were in middle school, and the condition was you had to stop drinking, and you couldn’t, and you wept, in front of mom and our stepdad. You wanted us. And being wanted was all we ever wanted. That hurts too, wanting to be wanted. Your room was proof we never forgot you, as hard as we tried. And we’re tough girls. Maybe too tough sometimes. Maybe too used to people leaving. You showed up at Nikki’s graduation as I told you to do, and when you were there I shunned you as you hugged her. And I hurt because I knew I wouldn’t see you at mine. Or Jodie’s. But I was willing to take that hit, as long as you showed up at Nikki’s…she was your girl. And I hurt for her. I always will, even after all this time. A  girl only gets one daddy. I feel like with you she was able to be just a little kid, angry when she wanted, loved when she needed it. That changed. In the “new household” with our stepfather she learned (we learned) to obey, that we were nobodies. He hit me and he touched me, and you weren’t there. You would have been afraid of him too I bet, but you would have held me I like to think. And I like to think you’d be proud of who I am now, of what I’ve overcome, of what I went through alone. There are certain things that tie sisters together, and you were one of them. We shared in the love you gave us before we moved away, we shared in the letters you mailed to Nikki, we shared in you not answering mine and Jodie’s, we shared in forgetting you, we shared in hurt, we shared in the abuse of our parents, and we shared in regret when you died. And now, the sun is going down and this song brings not you back but the very memory of how we loved you, how we blamed you, how sorry we are. And we share in the pain of lyrics ringing true to words we can’t say. And we don’t have a lifetime of memories with you but that only makes the few we do have all the more precious. We have a lifetime of feelings about you, for you. You were the one parent that never left us, in a way–you loved us just like you did when were young, you bragged about us to people you knew, they told us, you showed off our pictures and you played the tape of me singing over and over–Aunt Carol told me that. You always knew where we lived and some of the things we were up to–I saw you in a bar, the last time I saw you alive, and you knew I was in Eau Claire, you knew Nikki was in college. And I had a beer with you. I had a beer with my daddy. And I told you “I love you, dad,” and it hurts that my sisters didn’t get that chance.

I want to hold you in my arms, I want to ask you if you’re proud of me. I want to look at you looking back at me. I want to see who I come from. I want to take your pain and mistakes away. I want my daughter to hear your voice, and know the warm chest of the dad I used to rest my head on, the arms that pushed us in the swing under the apple trees. The memory of your love is a soft, quiet thing. It’s as gentle as you were.

And I am asking myself why, when something like a song comes up or a memory, does it still hurt so bad. The tears are overwhelming. And I think that aside from all of this, it is because I hurt you. I hurt you on purpose at times, and I hurt you in ways only you know, because really, you had no choice but to go, and we chose to leave. After you died, I like to believe all is forgiven, all that happened was meant to happen, and that you can feel us now, and be a part of our world that still at times wraps itself around your neck and whispers “I love you.”