Self Exam in the Mirror Down the Hall

All I wanted was the shadow

of your fingers

and cold eyes to kind of soften as

I gather my wounds in this tulip

and with you I would say

here

here

enter and close me up

 

I waited in your room

like this, folding and unfolding

my fingers over my palms as if it were

the tulip opening and closing,

bearing witness to my wounds

you know so much about,

and each time I closed them, I saw

a sort of smooth scar spreading

over old hacksaw stitches.

 

The clock ticking as it

pushed into impossible hours.

You are not coming, love.

And I swear I saw out the window an old comet

disappearing behind the horizon of the place

I fear this kind of shit goes—this intimacy, or the

promise of budding in Spring in this town

that never grows–just mud and dead-ends

and bent telephone poles.

 

This morning I have too much coffee

because my chest hurts.  The bright

rooms feel vacant, even disturbed somehow,

as if they have spent the night with me and woken up

hung over and filmed, my old whore petticoats

dimmed and faded blushes.

 

I look down into my hands and cup

them and close them and imagine little

black tulips hiding their centers,

not from me, but from the world.

From love. Rejection does this.

 

And I keep waking up at odd hours

in a box made out of black flowers that press

panic down into me

–an old panic, the kind that happens

when people leave.

 

And there’s his voice

repeating in my head

speaking in another language
and then nothing,

the silence plucking

sadness from me like grapes.

 

The chest pain I allow;

I switch to black tea

and cigarettes; to looking

into myself in the quiet noon saying

here

here I am

enter and close me.

 

You can’t cut a heart out of someone

if you’re not holding it.

 

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Self-Exam

All I wanted was the shadow

of your fingers

and cool eyes to kind of soften as

I gather my wounds in this tulip

and with you I would say

here

here

enter and close me up

 

I waited in your room

like this, folding and unfolding

my fingers over my palms as if it were

the tulip opening and closing,

bearing witness to my wounds

you know so much about, and then each time I

closed them, I saw a sort of smooth scar spreading

over old stitches, and the new ones

blended so well in these new petals.

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Human Cylinders in parts, Mina Loy

Human Cylinders

(my favorite parts of the mysterious poem anyway)

by Mina Loy

The human cylinders

Although born in England, Mina Loy worked as a poet and visual artist in Paris, Florence, and New York City, where her beauty and outlandish behavior shone at the center of several avant-garde circles. The eccentric vocabulary and syntax of Loy’s free-verse poems and their sardonic treatment of love can puzzle and offend, but no reader can question the work’s originality nor the poet’s fierce intelligence.
1882-1966–The Poetry Foundation

Revolving in the enervating dusk

That wraps each closer in the mystery
Of singularity
Among the litter of a sunless afternoon
Having eaten without tasting
Talked without communion
And at least two of us
Loved a very little
Without seeking
To know if our two miseries
In the lucid rush-together of automatons
Could form one opulent wellbeing ….
Simplifications of men
In the enervating dusk
Your indistinctness
Serves me the core of the kernel of you
When in the frenzied reaching out of intellect to intellect
Leaning brow to brow       communicative
Over the abyss of the potential
Concordance of respiration
Shames
Absence of corresponding between the verbal sensory
And reciprocity
Of conception
And expression
Where each extrudes beyond the tangible
One thin pale trail of speculation
From among us we have sent out
Into the enervating dusk ……
….The impartiality of the absolute
Routs      the polemic
Or which of us
Would not
Receiving the holy-ghost
Catch it      and caging
Lose it
Or in the problematic
Destroy the Universe
With a solution…
Mina Loy, “Human Cylinders” from The Last Lunar Baedeker

I Know About Love

“I broke my own heart too. It’s broken and gone. Everything I believed in and everything I cared about I left for you because you were so wonderful and you loved me so much that love was all that mattered. Love was the greatest thing, wasn’t it? Love was what we had likeabossHemingwaythat no one else had or could ever have and you were a genius and I was your whole life. I was your partner and your little black flower. Slop. Love is just another dirty lie. Love is ergoapiol pills to make me come around because you were afraid to have a baby. Love is quinine and quinine and quinine until I’m deaf with it. Love is that dirty aborting horror that you took me to. Love is my insides all messed up. It’s half catheters and half whirling douches. I know about love. Love always hangs behind the bathroom door. It smells like Lysol. To hell with love. Love is you making me happy and then going off to sleep with your mouth open while I lie awake all night afraid to say my prayers even because I know I have no right to any more. Love is all the dirty little tricks you taught me that you probably got out of some book. All right. I’m through with you and I’m through with love. Your kind of pick-nose love. You writer.”

–from Hemingway for his first love; read by Derek Walcott at New York Public Library (“Hemingway and the Caribbean“)–well worth the listen. This part was my favorite thought. It sorta choked me up one winter morning when I was walking.

1979

 

Bitter-fixed. The ones she helped damage aren’t crying for her.

Bitter-fixed. Depression and shame and fear fuel hate. To bury. To spit.

Bitter-fixed. Stabbing her finger into our chests to distort accountability.

 

The facts are:

she had a hand in most of what broke

 

1979, the brown Plymouth about to crash, her belly swollen and ready.

She sleeps as the first husband spends

her prenatal care on Pabst again,

and as the car flips into the ditch maybe

she was dreaming of a child, of how she was

going to feed her, how she would

hold her, what would her temperament be?

Will he love her?

 

The facts are:

she felt sorry for him;

she did not know how to love herself

–so young in a woman’s body;

her tenderness shrinking

as she sold her things to feed her children,

her tenderness hardening

as she cooked noodles and watered down

the milk, picking up beer cans and baby bottles.

 

And the facts are:

she is cold and hard because she is lonely

for herself, but

her heart will break with you

so you’re not alone;

her voice changes when you really need her,

dropping herself

because that’s how she loves.

 

In the dark polaroids of ‘65

she beams in every one.

“Cake” written beneath the scenes.

“Your mother was so sweet,” grandma used to say.

I look at her shiny apple cheeks, face tilted up—

that look in a child’s eye that reveals their temperament,

hers a rare sweetness my younger sister inherited.

 

I keep a photo of that young face

in my dresser drawer to remind myself

to love her, to remind myself that it wasn’t

her fault to hate me

when I had needed her, because

it wasn’t me she hated.

 

Looking at her last night, my throat hurt because I missed her.

And looking at her photo when I got home, my throat hurt

because maybe her pain is bigger than mine.

 

Her face last night, deeply lined and gray.

The apples of her cheeks a striated map of wear.

She hasn’t laughed much since Spring.

 

I called her this morning

fingering over my scars in the sunlight on the couch, telling her

in my own way that I am ok, that I love her,

that she is strong and life…life…is responsible…not us.

 

They said if she had been awake she probably wouldn’t have survived that crash.

And now she sleeps, breaking her own heart, because she did.

Little Black Flower 

I break my own heart

My little black flower

These cold mornings I walk with my hood up,

Snow glaring, solid streets coated in ice.

Crystal. It’s like crystal.
Pushing more miles behind me

Is all I can do

I don’t know where I’ll end up

I cannot pay attention

But to the absence of love
What has love been but

Little black petals I plucked and dried

What has love been but a dance I tired of;

My own skin, untouched in almost a decade

A woman should not go this long.

A human should not go this long.
I dream of pressure and forms as solid

As the snow beneath me;

I dream of water

And the absence of loneliness.
I expand. I absorb. I am in full bloom

This little black flower.

And it feels beautiful but needs witness,

I tire of myself

Sucking up silence like the ocean.

I want to say to you

See me. See me.

But no one is there;

blue shadow on the snow.

To Emma on Her 20th Birthday

 

Dear Emma,

“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” –Walt Whitman

This I am writing to you for you to read on your 20th birthday. I chose this age because this is when you really begin understanding what it is to be a young woman, and I want you to carry this advice into womanhood. I found out late and I think it is important that you hold this close to who you are.

First of all, and ever so importantly, don’t be a “good woman.” Be your own kind of woman.  As you get older, you will learn “good” and “bad” are quick judgments.  “Re-examine all that you have been told…dismiss that which insults your soul.” Explore your sexuality and do not be nervous about it. Read de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, and Roxanne Gay, Allen Ginsberg—so many. Read every kind of religion and faith and science—from Buddhism to Islam, astronomy to Christianity, Taoism to neuroscience. Study. On your own. And learn the history behind you—mine, yours, ours, and the women we come from. We are survivors, in big and small ways, as you will learn about me as you get older.

Take care of yourself–mind, body, and soul. Love yourself. Break rules. Don’t let authority hold its sway over your instincts. Don’t break the law, but always trust your gut. Trust me on that one. Your body is your temple, your mind is just thoughts, not always your friend, not always your enemy, but what counts is your heart, and you my darling, have a big one. Follow your own rhythm. You do not have to get married and have children and the house and the career. This is just a picture painted for you on how you’re “supposed to” live. Do what you feel you need and desire. Men are not “others”, they are human beings with hearts and souls, fears and insecurities and passions just like you. It took me a long time to really understand that. But, as you know so far and as you will learn as you and I grow older, is my past was hardly conventional, and nowhere near safe.

Take care of people you love, but never put yourself second in your mind. Love yourself, honey. And if you fear you don’t, find out why.  Face every fear you have.  Fear will remain, but master it.  Face it head-on. “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”  Mark Twain. There are dark times in life, and you may lose your faith. But you will not lose love, I promise. And if it gets to a point where you feel no love and see only night, know that you are loved, and those loved ones will carry the weight for you when you can’t.  Trust them.

Travel.

See the world, what you can of it. Sometimes, it’s ok to pack up and just go. Don’t worry so much, but be cautious, as you always have been my Tootie.

Write. Write your heart out, as you’ve always loved to do, even if it is just for yourself, and hold your privacy as a treasure. Writing healed lots of broken parts in me, and because of that I pieced back together bit by bit, and I am proud of where I stand. I have become a woman and I own myself.

If there is something deep inside of you that drives you, go towards it. Don’t be afraid. If you are a physicist or work retail—it doesn’t matter, as long as you are original. Think for yourself, question everything, as you and I always do. Know that you have it in you to do great things. I’ve seen it already.

You are a curious creature. And sometimes you are shy and sometimes you aren’t—I treasure that in you. You are blooming like a flower at twelve years old as I write this, and it is an honor to see.  It fills my heart so much, to see you healthy and loved and curious about learning and having all your friends. Don’t let the world stunt your growth. The real world is inside you.

You turned five when my battle with my past got what was left of the old me. Five was the age my abuse started in childhood, and when you became a little mirror image of that little me, I was desperate to keep you safe and protect you from the world. My PTSD was hard on you, and I own that. Worry, worry, worry as mothers do, all I have to do now to know you are okay is see your face when you walk in the door—flushed and sunned and bright, or laugh and dance with you in the kitchen, your relentless wit making me giggle even after you’ve left the room. Our late in the evening talks about friends and the confusion that comes with growing up–and there’s something in all this – you and I have made a small sanctuary over the years, and it is wonderful to come home to. Always make your home a sanctuary, wherever you are.

I bring up the PTSD because I want you to do two things for me. First, I want you to show others with mental illness or disorder the same respect and compassion you have shown me. In a world where people tend to treat illness or trauma as a fault rather than what it is and can be-a hard, admirable struggle. I want you to do that. Second, if you yourself should ever find yourself struggling with and feeling overwhelmed by something inside you, know that it is okay to be afraid at first, because it is scary. But also, know you have to face it—don’t run. Running only takes up your precious time as I have learned, and you will never outrun yourself.  I want you to know that you will get through it. You will learn from it and how to deal with it. Any circumstance that changes you can be also taken as an evolution into another stronger force, learning even more so who you are and what you’re made of.  You will have to make a choice if that happens—you will have to decide if you’re going to see the beauty and power and strength in risking change, making room for you to spread your wings.

Don’t fall asleep in your life.  Be as hungry for it at 20 as you are for it now at twelve. You are so hungry for experience and knowledge and excitement and nothing stops you. Don’t ever let that go. When you find yourself without an appetite, it is time to reevaluate.

I’ve never considered being a mother to you as work or a role. For me, it has been the greatest gift I could have ever asked for. You are loved, Emma. You are cherished and you are watched out for. And now, as you enter into womanhood, it is the time for learning to love yourself, cherishing yourself, and watching out for yourself.

So now go forth into the fray, and let the wild rumpus start.

Love,

Mom

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


LEONARD COHEN SANG “THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING, THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN.”


“–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. Hear my voice.

 

Amy

 

 

Water of Memory

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 Lidia Yuknavitch has written a memoir (also the author of The Small Backs of Children–here’s a link from the review by Electric Literature-“Novel As Self…”) that has struck so many nerves in me I couldn’t write for a week. Absorbing. Shocked. Mystified. Ever read a writer like that? It’s called The Chronology of Water  (that will link you to Huffington Post’s review and how this memoir is going “viral”) and I’m going to share a couple of lines from the book, a link to my essay reacting to it, a video from Lidia speaking on TED, and other random thoughts.Go look around and read the reviews, she has made ART of madness, sexuality, abuse, war.

Her voice in Chronology. You will never forget, maybe I’m so overwhelmed because it feels like I have, my entire life, been on the verge but not ready to write something so close as to how I feel. Here’s a video from TED Talks “The Beauty of Being a Misfit.” I dare say, this woman has inspired and changed my writing. This should be my damn home page.

Lovely Lines–because what she’s saying is stronger than words can even hold:

Lines/Quotes from Early in:
Under “Metaphor”:
Have endless patterns and repetitions accompanying your thoughtlessness, as if to say let go of that other more linear story, with its beginning, middle and end, with its transcendent end, let go, we are the POEM, WE HAVE COME MILES OF LIFE, WE HAVE SURVIVED THIS FAR TO TELL YOU, GO ON, GO ON.
You will see you have an underlying tone and plot to your life underneath the one you’ve been told. Circular and image bound.
Something near tragic, near unbearable, but contained by your irreducible imagination–who would have thought of it but you–your ability to metamorphose like organic material in contact with changing elements. The rocks. They carry the chronology of water. All things simultaneously living and dead in your hands.
From “on sound and speech”:
It was my voice that left. In my house
The sound of leather on the skin of my
Sister’s bare bottom stole my very voice
Out of my throat for years. ..Alone in my room, I drew on the walls knowing the
Punishment–pushing the waxen color as hard
As I could against the wall, until it broke…
 MY VOICE WAS COMING. SOMETHING ABOUT MY FATHER’S HOUSE.
SOMETHING ABOUT ALONE
It was my voice that left. In my house
The sound of leather on the skin of my
Sister’s bare bottom stole my very voice
Out of my throat for years. ..Alone in my room, I drew on the walls knowing the
Punishment–pushing the waxen color as hard
As I could against the wall, until it broke…
MY VOICE WAS COMING. SOMETHING ABOUT MY FATHER’S HOUSE. SOMETHING ABOUT ALONE AND WATER.  –Lidia
*reminds me of end of my poem “Reflections” –the doll/father/self/blood and “she’s beautiful….” losing voice/beauty to my power and destruction=self-destruction, perverse and all turned inward –amy
~my essay (first draft) is here, called “Reinvent Yourself Endlessly”, which you will hear in the TED talk:

REINVENT YOURSELF ENDLESSLY:

Every time a professor asked me or my peers what my poems meant–I never quite knew how to answer. They’re comments led me around and around the center of how I always felt about it but couldn’t word,  I just acted like I already knew. That’s why it was written–those were the words to what it was, what the truth to me was. It’s not that I didn’t know but that my body or mind seems to piece things together with words and images before I can catch up. My first poem I ever wrote was Vapor in 2005. And I’ve held onto it. It’s even been published. That poem still holds true–it’s some kind of core belief I have but I didn’t have a rope down into that well to truly grasp it. I am writing to you guys tonight because this is happening again in a way–I don’t know what I am thinking until I write it down; I have to write to a someone, and I hold you guys with affection, because I am not willing to write to just myself. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my honest attempt to stop escaping myself. Because I try to be as honest as I can on nights like these. I’m so tired, but I can’t stop feeling words that are coming that I am trying to prepare for. I’m not eating, I’m not sleeping. This is what happens every time before something real is written, and I don’t know what it is but I know my fingers will type it out for me.

Everything I have written so far–planning my grand, tragic memoir–is/was really, I am realizing, a desperately structured narrative so I could validate it the events, find order in the chaos, and so I could actually feel for the girl in the story because I have a hard time doing that for myself. Or I did. That’s changing. I am changing, and everything I’ve written–none of it is going into whatever it is that I am compelled and pulled to write. What pulls at me has been pulling for almost a decade, but it’s even stronger now, the words waiting, because I have been watching it unfold and the words only gradually come.  Call those vignettes, that attempted narrative structure, a healing process, call it a coping mechanism, call it a perceived truth (as all truths seem to really be), it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because how I write it and how I remember it has been two different worlds. The memories and images, feelings (mostly physical, body feelings, frozen emotional states of the past, etc.) and events of course are as true to myself as I can be. But my life is not a linear, chronological tale-it is a history of flashes out of order. And the flashes are what I look to when I write, involving my one fail-safe–my senses and body memories. I’m more tied to the smell of lilacs, tractor oil, Old Spice, the weeds along the path to the baseball games I went to all summer when I was a girl, the milkweed, trains, the iron ore at the dock, old books, the perfume I wore when I was being abused, the feel of water and wet skin on me, physical alarms and instinct, than I am tied to actual happenings or events. And that is a blunt truth: dissociating your whole life–you live in fragments, just like how I remember it. And I have changed and do so constantly into something that makes me feel alive–and I never really felt alive before, not for this long of a period. I am in love with the simplest things like blue, deaf mornings in the winter, the way the telephone wires reflect in puddles, the smell of a storm coming, white seagulls on dark clouds–I actually stopped my bike on my way down to the shore to watch them-and all of these are very simple and right in front of me. The colors and sounds and smells and sights don’t have intentions. They just are. And I can relax my mind around things like that; nature is like a fact, an unwordable cause and effect that has rhythm even in its own chaotic events-it’s all one thing sliding into and around the other. Motion. Repetition. Change.  Recycle. Like music.

As humans we try to master outcome. We try to master choice and effort and even failure to make sense of the things we cannot hold, of the things that happen to us.  “Events don’t have cause and effect relationships the way you wish they did,” Lidia Yuknavitch writes. And that’s true right through my gut–life is fragments and patterns and repetitions that do not hold true to the words we use, to the scenarios we build, words are just metaphor; we are of an imperfect nature-we don’t have natural disasters, we have trauma and loss and all those kinds of events at random, no one is picked out and chosen, and we’ve spent millennia trying to prepare our reactions and behaviors for these things. And it isn’t possible. What is inevitable though is that we will come out of it changed–“to something new, something strange,” (Longfellow? Not sure). But before we understand and are aware of that change though, somehow our natural systems undergo a small microscopic atomic evolution–or what I think of as the nightmares during the sleep of adaptation. Also called, in a flimsy, whimsical word, “healing.” And that is the perfect part of our ourselves–we’re part adaptation and evolution, but the rest is a blank slate.

I believe I am becoming who I am because I scribbled on a blank page my words and crossing-outs of what others had scripted on that slate-who I used to be, and becoming anything but her, for me, is a gigantic relief and forward motion–not towards anything, there is no goal, but into something I can’t describe yet. Into what–myself? Is it predestined that I would find this? Is this who I was before I hid away in my mind as a girl? Or did she all together vanish, and that’s why I had the breakdown and it took seven years to repair–because as an entirely naked being I had to start over? I don’t believe in destiny. I used to with a sort of romantic twist on it. I believe I am almost atheist in my perceptions. Or views. Or…something.  Scientific facts, math, denominators, constellations, physics–these are things with solidity. They cannot be moved. And maybe people are afraid to be moved; people are afraid that what they base themselves on in the private parts of their minds is illusion, and it can be terrifying-even if you are  used to a lot of change inside. We find religion. We find atheism. We find addiction. We find facts. We find knowledge. We are constantly looking. We seek other people, looking for strands of ourselves to keep aligned inside–a shared bit of the stars we come from–so as not to feel alone. Connection. Gravity. We think we need it. That it is necessity. Maybe it is, but going without it opens up a world’s worth of information. Gravity, connection–losing that is to study yourself as a microbe. When all connection is cut, when you lose your belief system so ingrained in you, when you find yourself no longer cursing a god for damning you but beholding something much scarier-that seemingly factual, unmoving reflection in the mirror of you dead inside–these are the facts, these are the equivocations of what you’ve totaled into, of who damaged you–all you felt, all you did, all you endured and you just weren’t able or built to survive that way at that age. You see yourself as just another product of a common tragedy all over the world–and it is not a pretty thing to see.  Being out there, weightless in space and only time will help you get used to, it’s fucking terrifying, losing that person. That illusion. It’s Theodore Roethke’s “In a Dark Time” —…pinned against the sweating wall/a man goes far to find out what he is/Death of the self in the tearless night/Dark, dark my light …It is, as he says, a death of the self. I never forgot that poem. But after the terror, after time-the only thing that keeps you-you gain so much more.

Maybe I poetisized the stars all along, because I no longer believe things happen for a reason.  I was not destined for this, I was not, as so many people say “becoming the person I was meant to be.”  I no longer believe that my dead father is the middle star in Orion’s Belt. He is gone. His body is part of the elements now, back to where it came from-into the patterns and rhythm of nature. But his essence is inside me, I have, from him, his voice telling me I’ll be okay. I remember many times looking up into the night and trying to rationalize with my brain what Catholic school had been teaching me, but at that age all I got out of it was an old man up there watching me to make sure I didn’t fuck up, and to make sure I loved. The contradiction was as easy to believe as it was believing all the other contradictions that were around me. What isn’t contradictory to me is that death, be it of the self or of the body, does what nature tends to do–breaks down the matter, recycling parts and pieces into different directions, different things, new things, and each finding a way.

I was afraid of suicide-of the actual act itself. I believed with all I had that my body would commit the crime against me.  So they tranquilized me on Seroquel for a year and a half so my body wouldn’t die. But it’s not how it sounds. A sort of mental or more-so a spiritual death is not specific, it’s not a quarantined moment. It’s sort of like the way dammed water floods. That time is a fragment to me now, but it’s quite concrete compared to other memories but it only has a linear order for a brief period of time. So. It is, after the frightening adventure of losing everything, including faith in religion, it’s an awakening. It’s a cold, cruel way to get to it, but it is an awakening.

I am not going to force my words into a frame anymore. My mind certainly doesn’t work that way.

I’ve known that Roethke poem almost by heart for years. Once you experience it, it is only understood by others that have. And their are easier ways I’m sure. But I’m going to add that poem, so that you can see. He describes it better than I can.


Theodore Roethke: IN A DARK TIME

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;   
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!   
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.   
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,   
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,   
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.   
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,   
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.   
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,   
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

and here is my poem, VAPOR:

This body’s breath
caught sharp and held
I hold it and like water
it escapes my fingers and spills
over my toes
when I am thirsty
asking too much from my body
when I am not enough
I give it tea and fruit and poisons
I exhale the fumes of the vices
herbal or smoky and fine
licking at these wet fingers
that let a pen scratch
let a word be plucked
from a curl of steam
this body’s breath
will learn it can’t hold what is borrowed
and maybe then stop
cupping and drinking
hold and take nothing
it’s enough just to breathe

let the vices unthread from the seams
of the spine into origami wings
taking flight in paper vees
and leave me in the water
enough