Healing

Before I began to heal,

I wasn’t angry

I couldn’t touch it

because that required will

and a kind of

passion to move.

You gotta outsmart

your wounds

and that’s where I started

burning.

Trauma doesn’t

run its course

and return you.

You don’t bloom from it.

You do inspite of it.

And there is something

to be said about a body

that keeps moving.

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The Hollows

for Real Toads “Tuesday Platform.”

This poem is based on a dream I had. I am both freaked out and excited, as a writer. 

The city in my brain when I sleep

has wide black-outs the size of

my fragmented memories. I pedal down

an alley where dirty wash buckets

get dumped out open windows above

the Section 8 apartments we

so frequently took shelter in.

These alleys are crowded and huddled—a

fictitious labyrinth but still I am fooled

into believing its constancy because of

the telephone wires and iron fire escapes.

A man at a crate, wearing overalls and a red

bandana smiles his drunken grin, scratching

his bulbous purple nose, whisking out a tissue

from a bony wrist, something familiar,

a vague scent of lilac. Something about the speed

in a humming bird’s wings, rust and oil

and tractor parts fill my head. Honeysuckle.

Yes; my father called him “Pa.”

I turn what must be southwest

judging by the sunlight glaring,

but I am not sure. Then a block down

and right—a Parisian-like corner where

the next alley intersects. Buckets

and barrels of flowers, palette displays

and chalked prices. I pedal slower.

Round soft women in purple and daffodil,

berry-stained lips and a lavender water

scent that makes me feel warm,

like the sound of my grandmother, how she

used to say I sang beautifully. She had shells

on her wallpaper in the bathroom.

Beautifully

Beautiful. In the recesses of my brain, that

specific word signals my amygdala to

get out the boxing gloves or take flight,

and then Paris disappears because of this warning,

the alley swallows me up in darkness

and into an end once the word “beautiful

grabs a hold of me, ringing in my ears

the way it did when he called me that

when I was a little girl. Not even in dreams

do we escape childhood.

This end is a brick wall, graffiti-filled and strewn

with Find Jesus and Bob Marley posters;

I turn my bike away, back toward light, an anxiety

starting to glow in my gut.

I hit a different center now, where four alleys meet,

these are all alleys now, and I choose—with “beautiful”

still hanging on my lips like a stale cigarette—to turn south.

Southeast. Cobblestone and puddles. This alley

is quiet and I feel the need to turn, but the walls

on the sides are narrowing.

My thighs just scuffing the plaster. I look ahead

because it’s too late to turn around—no room—and

I see the path before me going on and on like a tunnel

with shafts of light, then shadow, light, then shadow

where unnamed dead-end streets cross but I can’t

seem to get to them. A cracked hand

reaches out a glassless window and cold porcelain

knocks against my knuckle. I am picking up speed but

look back to see what it was, and when I turn forward

again, my bike wobbling, another white porcelain

girl. This one has a doll’s face that is white and cracked,

glued or fastened together, her head full of holes

where doll hair used to be, I back on the pedals Read More

Exposure

Memoirists are  often held up to harsh light. The needle-prodding into what is truth, what is your truth, what is the one and only truth?   And what are our memories but perceptions? I am going to trust my language, trust my memory that abides more by flashbacks in body and cognition. I can tell you I will honor my suffering, I will trust that what I went through is worth writing about and I only know that because it has kept me awake at night for over fifteen years. My mind is wired against what is expected of nonfiction writers, so I will tell my story as I have seen it and felt it, in a sort of peripheral blur of cognitive, emotional, and physiological flashbacks, along with so many moments of clarity that I could never outrun. I know what happened happened, because my body remembers it the way you might remember the feeling of water holding your body up in the ocean, the way your grandmother’s arthritic fingers traced circles on your hand and back when you were young and maybe afraid; the way rain smells on the street and the vision of those drops on the blooms by the back door where you retrieve your newspaper and Spring fills you and in that moment–you may have missed it–but you were existing between two spheres, coexisting in the memory of the fragrance of lilacs in rain in May  while simultaneously putting your body in the present moment of something new.

That is how I work–I am between those spaces yet in both at the same time, so that part of me steps back and watches on the fringe, curious.

Like the time I smelled ici perfume at Macy’s about ten years ago and it pleasured my sense of smell while at the same time triggered an old emotional state and fear response because I suddenly was aware that I had been wearing that perfume on the Sunday afternoon after church when my stepfather told me he didn’t see me as his real daughter but rather as an object of desire he would try to control himself around. Read More

This Spin

The nights have been getting so cold for a while now. I have been absent from my writing, and instead of forcing myself to write a poem or a weird essay or some shit, I thought maybe I’ll just sit and write. Conversationally. I’ll just…write. Let my agenda fuck off and the words just come. That’s like giving your inner critic a Tom Collins. Several of them.

I’ve been busy painting my new home into a modern minimalist artsy but thrifty home I want to feel like I am myself in. Tall ceilings, gray walls, white trim and windows, no curtains this time, keep it clean and light, black metal and soft wood lighting, Picasso’s framed poster “Blue Nude,” simple frames sparingly up with my daughter in black and white, the white warm linen shade propped up by couch on angular wood legs, hardwood flooring, no rugs. There’s a writing desk where our family photos cluster nicely together all cozy. But I want room. Room to breathe and think and be myself and I’ve always wanted to do this but for some reason never thought it was “me.” But I’ve always loved the way atmosphere in a room (I’m a lighting fanatic, even particular bulbs) can settle over you like a calming smell or certain albums. Certain feels that settle and relax your skin.

So I have been, in my painstakingly slow paint sessions, cleaning, short work shifts, three a.m. walks under the street lamps in my silent neighborhood, I have been using all of this time to settle in, yet further into myself, and out of myself, with forward momentum.  I thought maybe I had been escaping into things for months and months, maybe even in a certain someone,

…but the truth is I was looking at myself in the mirror the whole time and just waiting for my image to come into focus. And it isn’t really a mirror but a black frame propped up against the plaster wall of this old house. I am not hyper-focused, I am just….there…wondering what it is that seems to turning over and over in me, trying to tell me something.

And there were evident facts, like the person I told everything–everything to–told me I was “incredibly scarred.”

and

“Well, look at your life, your past, your scars, all affect now-look at your job, at what your write.”

And that bothered me, because it hurt, because it’s true. And I handle it. But that’s not what was turning and pushing its way.

I have a date next month with an old friend. He’s coming to town for the holidays. we’ve been talking. But no, it’s not that. There’s no pervasive anxiety with that other than wtf am I going to wear.

New flashbacks came up–a memory lengthened and highlighted and felt. Yes, the awful thing I saw in that flashback is real, because I remember it like I remember sleeping with my stuffed Kermit when I was nine. Every night. But I also know that the more you start to heal, the more you start to live your life, the more new doors open. So I scheduled an appointment with my psychologist and to discuss a few fears I know I can master I just choose not to write about.

PTSD does not go away.

But you manage.

Because the beautiful things in this world are worth the terrible. And I am mastering something ever so slowly but surely–the scary things, the fears, the fears of rejection, abandonement, attachment blah blah blah–all of these things are becoming…okay…because I let them have their room, and feel them when they arrive, but I am now able to recognize when that’s what pops up and affects me. When you feel the shit, set it aside, and put yourself in check–rejection and even abandonment stop hurting–because you take the power away from those that held those in their hands over you, and you stop, and it all comes from within. I am not abandoned because I have MYSELF, I am not going to be hurt by this or that rejection I risk every day with more honest words-I am not going to hurt because I do not reject myself. And I feel like I am in my center again and it spins and pools and it is lovely. This center is becoming so familiar to me, as familiar to me as anxiety, now it is this nest, this pool, this safe place to push for more and more life, more experience, more love, more curiosities….

The thing turning in me is this: I am living. I am challenging the borders I have limited myself by and I am pushing them back kind of easily. And with the choice of deciding to try new things like different approaches, kinder words, more blunt and honest words, standing up for myself, stopping pleasing people-one at a time; knowing the kind of woman I am without needed descriptive labels–I can’t describe who i am, but I like her. And there’s no need to explore any further.

The Point: Difficult Degrees

~the Point, & in a Poem

DIFFICULT DEGREES 2017

(an introduction to a poem/work-in-progress):

My childhood memories consist of either feelings OR images–feelings in my chest of space and a sort of vacuum…like a nameless, empty thing that can be filled by other things, other people, other parts of myself I could easily call upon and discard, but it constantly emptied, and  I forever got hungrier–and then transparent in how lean I was growing and not developing but filling, emptying, filling, emptying, knowing the walls of this kind of stomach were wearing thin. I am still learning to or trying to learn my autonomy, and I am not sure I want to find out if that sort of loss can be taken back. As for the visions, well that’s the funny thing–the images are steeped in color and sound and smell and more than ever–the feelings in my stomach. I cannot remember much about three years of being a six year old to an almost nine-year-old in a bigger city except that my sisters were starting to slip, or just did, for a while, there, and I felt cornered and afraid a lot, and the nasty green/yellow stain-like flu in my stomach was all the guilt I carried that I didn’t understand unless I released the temperatures and pressure and acted out through play, which I certainly did. But I kept a tight lid on it. I remember my sister in red corduroy’s rollerskating on tin wheels at my command in our basement after schools, the drain wet in the floor. The more I laughed, the more pleased she was. Somehow my sisters and I went our separate ways after moving there, but managed to remain somewhat fragmented together in the house. But fear wasn’t shared, sadness together over our real father I do not recall, though I remember crying alone for him every night for a very long time between my bed and the wall on the radiator.

My visions and feelings tell me we went from four, five, and six year olds who didn’t have a care in the world with our mother married to our biological father, staying out at the farmhouse with all the aunties, uncles, and cousins–I have a menagerie of body memories of the times in around four or five years, I remember very little, but I remember in a sort of tunnel of clips and sounds and smells–music from the seventies, and Pine-sol in particular
. And my stepfather’s shoe-polish and aftershave.

But after second grade, I can almost draw the picture of myself falling apart and inward. But that’s another story. My sisters though, we never made a pact, we didn’t always have each others backs out in the open anyway, where it wasn’t safe. But in the recesses of the sanctuaries we were able to create together late at night when everyone else thought we were sleeping, we were each others’ home, we respected how each of us was designed (though we hardly understood ourselves) safety, and sort of a reference to each other like-

“–did you think he should have hit her? OK, I didn’t either, maybe it’s wrong? What do we do?–“

We entered into a world we were being taught to fear somewhat

and we were completely unequipped in the ways of maturity and functioning growth, etc.

Three degrees in a similar environment

young summer nights found us in imagined sanctuaries

together, not impenetrable–but strong enough

to maybe remind us that we had each other, but the world

would only get meaner. And maybe strong enough to have the hindsight

that we weren’t going to be entirely okay, ever, but if

were okay together, than that small sanctuary would have to suffice.

We share histories, though of varying mass and degree,

we tried to grow somewhere between always losing the ones

we loved most, believing we deserved loss, believing only we could help ourselves

out of violence and harm, no one else would probably–and our safety

would come later when we grew up, or under the witness of others around.

Losing,  abandoned, forgotten, abused, teased and abused on and off as a whole,

…well,

once you get beaten down and played so many times and your humiliation comes at the hands

of thee power position and guardian–at the ages we were ate–

it was

…acceptable.

What other choice did we have?

 THE POEM

Each stage of equations  had spun me out

of my paper-doll dress recital curtain and naked into

the polar sun, white and stale metal hospital warmth,

the decay of my closet no longer able to hold or keep me,

my body repelling from and away from the only other option–a sort of

existential annihilating space, empty

with no reference point or gravity, by body

turning and revolving in the infinitesimal system of disorder.

With theory and law as dense as their own basis–

as a small girl with a highly developed survival skill

of withdrawing and disappearing,

I made a map,

charted by the constellations people left

at my door, or in my prescription bottles,

or in the tone of a voice on the phone

that uncomfortably told me they understand,

to hang in there–my awkwardness

a swallowing of tears and humiliation–because then I had to see

myself through their eyes–at what I had become.

Yes.

A constellation. A brilliant map-

away from the embarrassed acceptance in the eyes of

someone who once loved you but does not

recognize you without your borders

without your smile

without a personality, an identity

you once came equipped with,

–away from him meeting you on the street,

the ache of pretending to not notice their eyes

scan for an exit, scan your face, and

away from their belief that some people

who have gone where you have

never really come back.

Madness, they do not tell you, is as lonely as it is scary.

But a map of that night, that space,

and I started seeing without knowing how

that the answers were not static, they were not concrete,

they were not written.  They were not

even thought of–they cannot be touched,

they were sketched stars in reverse,

they were the universes in my irises unraveling,

the answers became something changed-something new-

through the radioactive pulse of my unstable heart,

shedding another degree and sparking a new one.

And after that burning

-like a coal mine…like an oil rig…piping and gloved hands and sweat and noise…

-like becoming skinless, an existential skeleton out in the ether
-after that burning-the last of the burnings-(there are no words for the others)–

a period of mechanical, metallic, empty, screeching and unaided disruption, destruction, separation, breakage, dismantling, the numbering of the pieces and counting what piles were left, broken useless ends and corners discarded into space-out into those starless, stale days;

I do not remember my eyes working;

I do not remember recognition even, or fear;

I do not remember my throat or my hands reaching for some kind of comfort;

what I remember is feeling–feeling a feeling for the first real moment in my life

and it swept across days, weeks, months, years

–tears and pain and anger and grief and sadness I had never thought possible

See I was learning that submission to the dark mysteries

my heart and mind and hands possessed

were wounds in the womb of where I had to first

learn to breathe

again

and again.

My body began to build some kind of structure

that could handle oxygen again, in small doses,

but on the inside there was an entire operating system

new and changed

-scribbling words and reading the medical books in my attempts

to gain control were now almost forgotten,

my sutures

my stitches up my skin

healing each part of myself into the other stitched up piece.

With each dominant emotion shaking me, another

department in my mind–the worlds of words

had strewn together an open-ended narrative, stitching up

my skin in sentences I had not yet rehearsed–

but the words were coming nevertheless, accelerating

and then pacing in difficult degrees I was

developing a clarity for.

To not be a girl anymore

lost

in a pale nightgown

in the shutting of doors

To be a woman emerging from

dirt

with dirt under my nails and the armor that comes

with losing it all and having nothing left to lose but you fight anyway,

scarred face, scarred bod–

unblinking and beautiful into the morning.

I reach for the cycles and circles of degrees like encapsulated bubbles-

bubbles tight with my words that arrive on tongue and lip

with tear and bone,

not measure and foresight,

expectation and pride.

The temperature in my beating body,

a body submissive to where I carefully select new order

with a lightness of touch, combined with the old habit

of dread and preparation.

The temperature is new–a falling down of degrees–

but the changes,  the chemistry of this new script, are

becoming new elements entirely–

so I feel with my pen

to chart another way to discover–to discover what I

am not sure at first…

but somehow

each word connects to new connections

in my body, and my body is binding itself

into something real and whole,

self-possessed and by my design alone.

I have sabotaged and rebuilt

and rewired and started

with a fuel I’d never, ever tasted before–Self-Love.

Self-Love and will.

An Afterthought:

My body is my memory. My memory is my narrative, which is my story, which has gaps and blocks and stitchings and bridges,  best forgotten dark alleys and abandoned farmhouses, but also a shared swing beneath apple blossoms with the two girls that grew into women while I was gone, my sisters, but they waited in the wings until I found mine.

–As I write this, right now, they still gently wait in my peripheral-

the only proof for them of my healing and strength being time and consistency–

they wait, nudging me on always and never, not once, crossing my boundaries they

allowed me to build with them over childhood. As if they knew, somehow, they had faith

in ME, that I’d figure it out my own way, alone, as I knew it had to be done and as all

of us who’ve gone mad know there is no taking anyone with you–they waited, all these

years, letting me set the pace and distance and even how far I was going to push them.

(the first poem Difficult Degrees can be found here, from 2010…my, my, my how things have changed…)

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And Your Face, in the Mirror?

This is a poem structure of Louise Gluck’s, I copied the italics and answered the questions my way, and in this new draft, I am contrasting my old perspective when I wrote this with my perspective now. It has changed drastically-since the first draft of this poem two years ago. You can read the first, old draft here, from when I was in that dark space. Now for the new one:

 

“Are you healed or do you only think you’re healed?”

I told myself it is

terrible and beautiful

to survive.

Believing it might make me so,

with whatever limitations I

guided myself by.

 

 

“But can you love anyone yet?”

I slipped across mirrors,

always mirrors.

I was only yet learning

my reflection, a face

I didn’t know.

 

 

“But will you touch anyone?”

 

I told myself

if I have nothing,

that’s what comes back.

I touched my body

in the mirror,

examined its rounds

and edges, the skin

an …other. Read More

Voices and Comfort

I can’t open up to my psychologist yet.  I realized this when I finally took a breath after weeks of relentless cycles of giddiness and tears and I knew it wasn’t medical or needing a check.  No.  It does this; when something bothers me–in my heart and who and where I am–it manifests in my body until the truth hits.  I cried and let it all out to my grams.  I told her all my secrets NO ONE KNOWS.  And she told me I was still so sweet.  That I had to be better to myself, that I would figure it out–because I always have.  And I sat for awhile in the silence in the dark and let my mind finally rest.  Finally.  And it hit me.  The time here lately has been a progression of the positive–I am changing.  And my “epiphany” was to make a change.  I am going back to school with my writing/soc/psych and I am going to teach art therapy/trauma writing to women and children of trauma (Vets w/ PTSD would be amazing).  I told my grams “I feel so big inside–whole worlds are opening up in me–but my outer life is so small…” And this decision to finish school and USE WHAT I HAVE BEEN THROUGH TO HELP OTHERS GET THROUGH IT.  I know I’ll do it like I know I’m getting better–a well-known FACT.

I wish I could talk to my psychologist, Allison, like this.  After all that’s why I am seeing her.  I had a sort of assignment because I busy myself so much because I am trying to find purpose in my days, and we started talking about the voices I have heard.  THe challenge is to try to listen to them, and to not fear them–see what they say.  And somehow, last night (I’ve sought out the old woman and small boy that talked in my head and i can’t find them) so last night I stopped thinking, I just listened.  Listened to the heat click and kick in, my breath, Emma’s sighs from sleep in the other room…until I noticed a relaxing familiar hum coming beneath the real world, and the hum is what’s really real.  A woman was talking, she didn’t sound old.  I kept listening and tried so hard to remember what she was saying for later but i knew if I did try I’d lose it, so I just listened.  And it at first sounded like my older sister Nikki talking about the television or something, But the voice came closer, and more clear and I knew who was talking in my head to the others–it was me.  ME.  And I remember I said something about finding something and I had it the whole time.  I don’t understand but I don’t think what she/I said was of any importance.  But it was me.  My voice.

WHAT THE FUCK

But I am not afraid–I am utterly curious.  The mind fascinates me.

Thanks Grams, for sorting out my tired head, you in your yellow floral sweater you used to wear with the embroidered collar on it.  I miss you.  I love you.  Sorry I haven’t talked to you out loud since I was in the mental ward, but I know you see into me–you see me getting better.   Rest in Peace.

Dolores Gurske (Aug 2008) with my girl, Emma at Flying Eagle camping resort–she knew from the beginning that Emma was going to be hilarious, and one hell of a little kid.  The way she looked at her.

Dolores Gurske with my Emma at Flying Eagle Resort
Dolores Gurske with my Emma at Flying Eagle Resort

Sex, Abuse, Dreams, and Taboos

My hands are actually sweating writing this.  I’ve wanted to write it for a long time but how do you talk about it?  Well–you don’t.  So you write about it, and then no one 11111111111111111111111111111111111111can look at you.  Childhood sexual abuse, a well-known internet topic, but not-so-known is the secret many victims share–the abuse aroused us.  Maybe not all, but many, many, many survivors share this shame with me.  My therapist wasn’t surprised when I told her about it–which is the only reason I didn’t puke.

I’ve been looking around and found this place helpful–Pandora’s Project.  The opening of their page on Sexual Abuse and Arousal states:

A sexual response or orgasm in the course of sexual assault is often the best-kept and most deeply shameful secret of many survivors. If you are such a survivor, it’s essential that you know that sexual response in sexual assault is extremely common, well-documented and nothing for you to be ashamed of.

and I liked this as well:

If you were sexually assaulted as a child, you were victimized by somebody who had knowledge of how to touch and manipulate you to the ends of their own gratification, and ensuring that your shame and (false) sense of complicity rendered you less likely to tell. It is another dimension of the abuse, and not a statement of you being bad. As you heal, you will come to give the abuser back the responsibility for all of the abuse, including the responses.

However, even though knowing that this reaction is normal, I just can’t accept it, and for very good reasons.  But before I get into that awfully private shit, I want to talk about shame.  I don’t even understand what the word means and I want to know why I don’t.  It’s not in my vocabulary.  I don’t feel like I caused the molesting in any way.  I did not provoke.  I was four for Christ’s sake.  Then why do I hate myself for it?  I don’t understand.  Like this part of my brain is blocked.  I want to do more EMDR.

I have dreams where I am being molested or raped and I wake up in an orgasm.  And the worst part?  The “dirtiest” part? Is in the dream…I like it.  I wake up nauseous and cry my eyes out, wondering what kind of person am I?  And it take A LOT for me to cry.  I have nightmares all the time but these ones kill me.  And then 11111111111111111111111111111there’s the other reason I was hinting at before–my sexuality.  I am a submissive heterosexual bordering on bondage.  Utter submission.  And there are fantasies in my head I’ve only shared with one other  person, and luckily he’s as fucked up as I am, so there’s that camaraderie, lol.  OK, why am I making jokes.

I know arousal is a normal response.  I know that.  But what about now?  What about current sexual desires? –the submissive, bondage, etc.  And is it normal to be having these sick dreams at the same time that I am figuring out my sexuality?  yeah, I’m a late bloomer.  I was very…inhibited and numb until my thirties. 

Read More

EB-125

published Summer 2016 in Open Minds Quarterly

 

EB-125

 

I think I’m seeing white birds

white birds scattering away

from my window, out there

in the cold January, their wings

sound, from here, like sheets–

my grandmother’s white sheets–

on the line in June.
The light coming in is white.

Color? Or space?

Like the space we can never fill.

Like the start of a narrative.

Like the blank walls,

these hospital rooms cemented

in their smoggy halo.
I’m crouched over a puce tray,

surrounded by the others in halogens, others

that have found strange caverns to fill in

strange tongues native to disorder, asking me Read More