March 14, 2017
Ashes in my hair,
in this short, mangled mess.
Ashes in my tea,
in my barely-warm chipped mug.
Ashes in my socks,
in the bottom of each heel.
Ashes in my teeth,
in my gums and spurious smiles.
Ashes in my dreams,
in the darkness of fitful sleep.
An erupting volcano up the way.
A cremation chamber across the road.
A troubled chain-smoker outside my window.
An overused fireplace in the sitting room.
A coal-burning party in my chest.
March 12, 2017
Today was a day of immersion in you.
I dreamt of your face, your sweaters, your beard being just so. Slightly unruly, but only slightly.
I can’t remember the dream, but I remember willing myself to stay asleep longer. In my half-awake state, I shut my eyes tight wanting another minute of seeing you. Because the world is weary, still, without you in it.
And you are the rope, the string, the trail of stones or marbles or pieces of bread leading back home. And I follow you.
I follow you until the trail is cut short and I am in the middle of someplace I do not understand.
How long does love last? I ask myself as I twirl your fraying strings of memory between my fingers. Where does love go when you can’t keep it anymore?
Is it trapped like a firefly in an earnest child’s jar? Is it hung on a clothesline someplace under the burning sun to dry out?
Maybe it breaks apart and becomes absorbed by the air. And the wind brings it into our lungs until the love is what’s actually keeping us alive, breathing, moving.
Maybe your love laid itself softly onto the ground the moment your soul left the earth. Maybe it became an invisible trail when you died, pulling and pushing me, leading me someplace I don’t yet understand.
Still, I’d rather be asleep than awake. Because in that stretch of unconscious existing, there is still hope.
I’ve left the crumbs, the pebbles, the words and ropes and strings of prayers. I leave them everywhere I go.
Now find your way back to me.
January 12, 2017
I walked without direction today,
palms upturned towards the grey, drizzling sky.
I passed people on the puddly sidewalks,
avoiding eye contact and feigning interest in
the cold, grey pavement.
Emily Dickinson, I remembered then, was a people-hating hermit, wasn’t she?
The leaves had gone, and the trees reached up towards the sky as if to say,
But I know another reason they reach up, (though I won’t stop people on the street to tell them. They don’t seem interested, anyway.
And I am a hermit.)
Each spindly spiney branch had a set of its own sharp twig-like protrusions.
Every bit of the tree reaching. Every bit.
And it reminded me that not every bit of me is reaching.
The lazy bits are satisfied to dangle and sway depending on where I and the wind take them.
I saw a sideways tree, too. Growing out of the ground at a 60 degree angle
and I thought this tree grew where it was planted and didn’t ask permission.
Would that I were a tree
and didn’t have to ask, may I grow, may I reach, may I be stripped bare of everything and yet still try?
November 15, 2016
It started with the hugs after you died.
I stood at the centre of the room with people milling about around me, like a time lapse sequence in a commercial.
Then they came to hug me, one by one. People I knew. People I didn’t know. People I cared nothing about.
One of them cried as she held me, wetting the neck of my brown and white scarf. She wanted to be comforted, so I did the right thing and patted her on her back saying, it’s going to be okay. Then she picked up her gaudy Egyptian purse and left, feeling better about herself because she came.
People came and went, I didn’t know their names. They wanted to see the widow. So I let them see me, as though I were an animal crying behind steel bars at the dusty Alexandria zoo.
How sad they must’ve thought as they texted their husbands to come pick them up.
That’s how it started – with the hug from the woman with the gaudy Egyptian bag, dumping her sorrows into my scarf, leaving it sweaty and heavy. I told her be brave.
I thought it was the right thing to do to tell everyone: be brave so I could hide behind phony bravery and assemble a home out of selflessness. I stood outside in the street at night, giving my story and love to whoever would have it, showing them how brave I was.
How sad they must’ve thought, as they counted their change to decide if it was enough to buy a pack of chiclets.
I peddled all my sad stories away, knocking on the hearts of anyone willing to shed a tear for me. I put myself in a cage, like an animal who has never known the hunger of the wild.
I wrote myself into a corner, I can’t get out. And even if I could, where would I go? There is no more journey when all the paths have been gifted to others.
October 20, 2016
Keep something I tell myself.
You’ve given too much away.
Keep something for after the sun sets and the children are asleep,
for the long drives in the beat up van that smells slightly of old candy wrappers,
for quiet moments of concentration beneath the flickering kitchen lights.
Keep some poetry to dance with your heart as you look out a foggy window,
as you wipe away the starting spots of mould in the corner of the tub,
as you pull on a plain grey pair of tights, frayed at every edge.
Keep some of your words to yourself, to line the edges of your fingertips as you mince the garlic and smell of it all day,
to swim in oceans of thought processes for all the minute decisions you make,
to chuckle at secretly in the midst of people you just don’t like.
Keep some of your heart to yourself, to scrape at the overused and torn edges of every paperback in your possession,
to claw away at the anger that inhabits the space between your shoulder blades and gut,
to counteract the poison you drink every evening when you have a spare minute.
Not everyone needs to know everything.
Not everyone needs to taste your medicines when they don’t have the same illness as you.
Keep something for yourself. Just one thing, just one thing.
Everything you give, you’re losing out of your own body. There’s a leak in your heart, and its sorrows and remedies are making their way out of your fingers and toes.
Until you are nothing. Until everyone has taken everything from you.
And you are violently rung out to dry, lifted from the ground in a gust and subject to the whims of whatever storm brews today.
You were never that rag of a body you’ve become. I do not recognize you anymore. No one wants the shell and the peel after the insides are eaten.
No one wants you like this.
You don’t even want yourself.
So keep something. Please.
September 13, 2016
There are only so many times a flower can grow from the ground without thorns – only so many times she can lay herself in full splendor at the mercy of every predator and heavy boot until she is crushed beyond recognition.
She grows again, from nothing, hoping this time will be different. Hoping the elements will not kill her, will not grind her into nothingness. But they do. She hopes the heavy boots will decide to take another road and spare her life. But they do not.
So she grows again. From nothing again. Except this time she is not defenseless. She has thorns. Beautiful, wounding thorns that pierce the hands that touch her, that draw blood from every malicious wanderer.
She may yet be destroyed. In spite of her thorns, she is still weak. Still made from softness and merciful kisses from the sun. Still beautiful, despite her best attempts to appear otherwise.
But even so, even as she lay on the ground dying, plucked from her very core and strewn aside by careless hands, she laughs. Because as she is absorbed by the earth to be reborn, someone walks away with bloodied palms.
August 6, 2016
I am sort-of woman.
The kind of woman who is woman, biologically – I mean, physically weak with bones that bend and ligaments that tear because she lifted something too heavy. Weak woman. Biologically woman with monthly mood swings and ear piercing holes that won’t disappear despite her not wearing earrings for years now.
Sort-of woman is biologically all-woman. But emotionally, not.
Not really anyways.
Full-woman is loved. Not by fans, not by children, not by friends. Full-woman is loved by man. It doesn’t have to be a popular thing to say, but it’s true.
Full-woman is someone whose curves are appreciated, whose cooking is looked forward to, who makes her home warm and inviting despite every flick of pain and ink of disaster writing itself just beyond the front door.
Sort-of-woman is less known. Less known as the warmth-giver, less known as the person from which everyone derives strength to get up another day, less known as beautiful. Less known.
Sort-of woman defies death by becoming it. She wants nothing, and thus she is not wanted. Not really, I mean. Not essentially. Not desperately. Not in your home or in your heart.
She hangs in the balance of existence, not truly loved, not truly loving. Just there – weak like a woman in every way, but without the one who looks at her weaknesses through the male lens and sees them as strengths.
I often wonder, what is woman when no one loves her? Who is she if she can’t speak, I mean really speak to someone she loves with impunity?
She becomes sort-of woman. There, despite not being needed. Don’t mince my words. I mean really needed.
Sort-of woman. I know her and she knows me. Always admired, but never quite wanted.
Fatigue has taken hold of my bones,
laid waste to the energy I felt as a child–
(that’s what I was until I understood I wasn’t).
I’ve never known fatigue like this,
it’s the accumulation of:
sadnesses I hold onto and that hold onto me,
the fear of dreams I hate coming true,
the hoarse throat that seats my unresolved rage,
the anger of too many physical things littering where I walk,
the guilt over feeling fatigued.
There are piles of things lain on my back. Piles of things that have fallen there, or that I’ve put there. Piles of things that I’ve chosen not to rifle through and discard like people do in furtive pockets of spring cleaning.
And the heaviest of all the items in the pile are words.
Do you know the power of words? To uplift, to destroy, to fatigue? They are the wrenches and hammers and bulldozers of the mind. And yet they’re used with a kind of flippancy that can only be described as madness.
The fatigue that has taken hold of my bones is made permanent with your words.
“You look better now,” she said to me, “Better than before. Before you looked…so broken.”
The thing about loss is that it breaks you. Depending on the impact, it might be a clean break, easily bandaged and healed in a few weeks. Or it could shatter you, sending shards of your essence in directions they were never meant to naturally go in. When you shatter, a simple cast that your friends sign with bubbly get well soons won’t be enough.
You’ll need surgeries. Multiple surgeries. You’ll need someone to open you up and physically push and pull the pieces back together.
And the thing is, even after the operations, the pain, the months and years of recovery, your brokenness will still show. There will still be a part of you that is misshapen – too large, too small, too bent out of shape.
The bones and muscles and nerves of your brokenness contort themselves as though they are living, breathing beings. They are phantom limbs that knock on the door of your consciousness begging to be let back in.
But your face will look less broken. And your heart will feel less broken. And you’ll run your errands with a CD playing in the car and smile because the traffic is light. And you’ll be glad at the prospect of a homemade meal. And you’ll sleep better at night without fearing what you’ll see in the darkness.
But the brokenness is still there, menacing, dangling your scars and stitches in front of you, asking you to keep it by your side and close within your chest. And you will, no matter the cost, because it’s the only way you remember that you were once whole.
Then when a pain touches you once more, the brokenness is lit up like a match on a starless desert night. It burns your fingertips, it makes your eyes water. It leaps onto everything you’ve held dear and turns it to ash.
And yet beyond the ash there’s something that other people don’t yet have: the strength to start again. Because while you were in pain, while the pieces of you were being pushed and pulled back together, while the stitches from your wounds were burning and oozing, your brokenness was holding on to you and urgently whispering in your ear:
Get up, your work isn’t done.
May 13, 2016
I have hardened. Tough as nails and all of that. I didn’t feel it coming on at first. I didn’t understand that the soft layers of skin and clothes were slowly crusting and curling and drying up in the sunlight. Like salt-water-drenched clothes hanging in the midday sun.
I didn’t notice I had become so stiff until the sun had already gone down, until it was too late to wash off the salt. The salt-stench is permanent now.
And yet beneath the hardened sleeves and shoulders, there is still life. There is a pain and grief so soft, so malleable, that a single breeze of memory could topple me where I stand. That a single word of anger could inflame every suppressed moment of patience within me.
I didn’t notice I had become so vulnerable until the words of people tore through me, until the seeds of buried memories grew and pushed themselves from the surface of my heart.
Grief makes enigmas out of us. We stand tall, hardening our shells, drying up our skin and clothes so we can bear it. But everything shriveled in the sun will eventually crack, and the holes left behind reveal a sadness so palpable that it breathes the same air as our lungs.
Hard but soft.