i tried to figure out the rhythm of her heart while she slept on my foot

August 24th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

my dog doesn’t like it when i listen to her heartbeat
i don’t really like it either i can’t quite place the rhythm it’s either
six beats one rest or four beats one rest or six / rest / four / rest
every rest i think she has died
i hold my hand to her heart to get the measure of something
and she slowly rolls away
maybe she thinks i will kill her maybe it’s simply a spot too tender
to touch

barely morning still dark
the space between inhale and exhale
i feel the wind between my cheeks
mouth full of summer leaving
song on the radio says isn’t it isn’t it
i find the tender heart of the present the space
between this suffering and that suffering
for one second it’s everything and then it’s gone and i can’t
quite get that beat down again

my dog looks up at me
getting dressed for the early shift all stretched out impossibly
taking up the whole bed she looks at me like stay
how is my look back i have to do these things to pay rent
she blinks slowly just stay
she doesn’t understand anything but the space between suffering i think

yes people are forever writing about what their dogs teach them
and this is my lesson she really is so good and not in the ways
i’ve selfishly shaped her here she is exploring each pocket of the porch
sniffing out bees and lizards and sitting among the flowers and chewing
the wood chips i painstakingly spread thick and wide she goes wherever
her heart takes her until basically until basically i step in

my heart is taking me somewhere somewhere pretty nice i think even though
i might just sleep with my coworker even though the fantasy of him is much
hotter than the reality and i might just have tea with my ex every week so she
can see me as good as healed as not the one who caused her all this pain even
though eventually i’ll cancel our standing plans closing the door yet
again when i feel better because that’s what i’m still getting unstuck from

my dog hates the car like hates it enough that the anti-anxiety meds i stuff in her
mouth just make her lay down not even sleep she pants her heart races
but ten minutes later we are in the woods twenty and we’re at the creek
twelve hours later we’re at the sea and she can spin like a maniac across the sand
never have i seen her bound for joy like when we get to the beach the creek
the forest but i wonder if the suffering is worth it for her
i wonder if dogs kill themselves ever like birds can pluck that one feather above
their heart that makes them bleed out
suddenly i’m wondering if that’s apocryphal

if there’s one chance i get to strip away suffering in this life
the only real chance i have is with my dog
so how am i doing with that and does it have anything to do with what i’ve
stripped away in my own?

i don’t know where we’re going and now i’m the one panting at the window
sticking my face in the breeze and then changing my mind it’s a little too much
we’re going a little too fast for all that and not fast enough how are we still
in this hellbox it’s been seven seconds hours lifetimes and when we arrive
it’s pretty spectacular i have to say even though it’s one space between breaths
one moment in a billion trillion moments where everything feels okay and
like maybe all the suffering was a different life or a dream or just a movie
i saw once and cried at and then we get back in the car even though i’m
screaming and shouting no and i
wonder how many more times can we do this
before it stops being worth it

 

 

despite

September 2nd, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

when i was a child

my father told me marilyn monroe was beautiful

despite a small brown circle above her lip

 

when i was older

my father showed me pictures of the women he went on dates with

thick cakes of make up

dyed and thinning blonde hair

 

my father told me stories of the women he went on dates with:

vain cruel insecure

 

when i was a child

we had many large photographs of marilyn monroe

including one above the couch

where i sat beneath her

where his dates sat beneath her

we became a thumb

caught in the frame

 

people ask: was she really even that beautiful?

people ask: or did [they] decide who was beautiful and who was not?

 

people say: [someone else] is much more beautiful

 

i have no interest in individual beauty

either everyone is beautiful or no one is

beauty is so often cruel

beauty is always cruel

 

i hope i am beautiful

i look in the mirror and i don’t see it

i see a thumb caught in the frame

 

i say i love myself and the despite gets swallowed

despite: hair

despite: nose

despite: skin

[she was beautiful despite]

 

my father wrote a book on empowering women

my father came from a shattered cruel woman

thick cakes of make up

dyed and thinning blonde hair

 

i hope i am beautiful one day

one day i hope to look in the mirror

and see the ocean instead

 

one day i will look in the mirror and see

something big and beautiful

and cruel

 

bush-hog to god

October 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

There was a time when I needed to shave my head.

The end of October, standing on four years sober. I was broken & leaking & open. It rained. Damp porches, the daylight a closing door. Everything in calendar: days since I moved, days since we ended, days until winter, days sober, days since my last, since my last.

I had the razor already, sheathed, waiting for impulse to strike. A party was being prepared, elsewhere in the house. And then the first kiss: the guzzling blade to hair to scalp. I chose the crown of my head to start with, which is to say I chose to not turn back. Whole calendars lifted & relinquished into the sink. My history. My hair. Burn it down. Raze it to the ground.

To talk about hair is to talk about race, is to talk about gender, is to talk about expectation, assumption & oppression.

For me, to talk about hair is to talk about the little war I’ve been fighting every day for as long as I can remember. All hair, everywhere. Calendars marked by hair. Laser appointments, haircuts, waxing, all Sunday spent in the salon chair, painting chemicals onto my head, straightening a few finger-gathered strands at a time. Days, hours, cm, mm. Darkness, thickness, visibility.

It’s to talk of hormones and femininity and sexuality.

The parasitic wasp, these notions of beauty. So deeply seeded you don’t recognize it as foreign, as not mine. Until you are tearing at your body trying to destroy it from the outside in, while it expands, occupying more, claiming more. Hair: leaves me feeling too repulsive to live with, or to look at. At which point it feels very much like mine, & “it” being what exactly?

They say god hid itself inside of each of us, waiting for us to arrive at a divine moment of self-recognition. I think it must be even further down, beneath all of this other crap. Most of us never get down that deep.

A shaved head is a swung needle, pitched right or left, all of the way: the extremes of spirituality, of bigotry, of illness, of war. It’s to lay bare identity. To uncover, to unframe. I unframed all of the things I thought about myself, pictured confidence first, hoping my mind would follow.

Act as if, they say.

A shaved head, my bush-hog for god.

People believed me, I think. I believed me. And it was true in that regard. It is a mainline to self-love and self-acceptance, this hyper-visibility, real or perceived.

& then the regard of others: Men stopped me on the street and told me I was beautiful (reluctantly flattered; unwillingly welcomed); older women admired (so bold!) and peers praised (badass). I swung on this attention: hooked myself to it, pulled up and up, for a time.

“Are you a boy?” a child asked me. I hesitated, not-sure, suddenly, once again, non-neutral.

& yet the people I was attracted to (who might also be asked if they were boys) seemed further away, my appearance unarticulating my insides: the fluid movement of self from room to room: butch & femme & strength & grace. (Here’s where I want to say “or.” Here’s where I resist intersection.)

Who did I do this for? I asked myself.
Who am I doing this for?

There’s hair and then there’s hair. There’s the glamorized and there’s the war. How good it would feel how free to let it go. To toss the arsenal: tweezers, razors, waxers, lasers, clippers, bleachers, relaxers. When I talk about hair, I talk about both kinds, and they are the same, they are both pain.

I stand on one side: the exhausted I wish this weren’t a thing side, the taming, the fighting back.

Some divide, I see another: one of expression, of making personal, of fighting for, taking back notions of beauty, of worth. Reclamation. The only reference point I have, some keyhole to the other side: the first time we had sex, the hundredth, and every time was different, every time felt like an opening, a shrugging off a lead blanket: the lie we had been told: that we had just one way of fitting together. Sex with you felt like liberation. Felt like coming home. Reclamation.

With this, with hair, I know I’m being sold a lie. I know it and that knowledge does nothing for me. When I talk about my hair, I talk about growing it back, blending back, passing. I recognize the choice. & if I choose nothing?

A shaved head was once a forest fire. A fertile void.

It’s October again. Almost five years since my last, since my last. I suppose I call this place home now. The treeline diminishes. My hair like bristle: the razor, sheathed.

This is the way I know to let time take time.

 

 

It’s About a Book

August 24th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I ask my heart, please, never stop speaking to me. I ask that, when I wander far from my dreams, my heart press me and sound the alarm. I swear that, every time I hear the alarm, I will heed its message.

– adapted from The Alchemist

 

I.
it’s
about a book
and the book is you

I look up from the last page
and there you are
ordering a small cup of coffee
from that place off Myrtle

you’re telling me
one hand like a catcher’s mitt in the air
how close you’ve gotten to the flame
how much brighter it burns at this length

the barista slides the small cup toward you
and you make a joke
something like “you’re like my favorite human alive now”
laughing first and louder
it’s that your laugh is a tower

 

II. next chapter

in whole foods the ceiling is starless, dark
you’re telling me your skin feels like paper
this close to the fire

“sorry” you say
“no sorry” I say

 

III. next chapter

you’re a gray bubble
worrying about the final chapter
an ellipses, this is you thinking

this is me thinking
of the star who drives
by her own light

who is very much the forest
who is very much the fire
who is very much the tower
who is very much the doe
who is very much the star

 

IV. final chapter

the author announces
on some late night show
there will be ten more books
each so thick you’ll need three people
to read it

its name will surprise you
it will tell you something about the story
but not everything

it will ask you if you should order
another coffee

it will draw another card
it will show you each brick in a giant tower

it will be a word, underlined, that you can live in
while the rest is written

 

V. epilogue

and the fire is you

 

 

 

I Couldn’t Quit You.

March 20th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve known no other friendship like the one I had with cigarettes.

I was carried through life by four inch rolls of non-additive tobacco, buoyed along the streets, brought in and out of meetings, waved into introductions, and comforted in goodbyes. Cigarettes saved my life, my sobriety, and my sanity. They were the friend who always picked up the phone, the lover who always came over after hours. When cigarettes eventually began to hurt, I only craved them more. The further I dug my claws into them, the further they dug theirs into me. “This,” I said, “this love I will never let go.”

Cigarettes are that friend that makes you look a little cooler and sexier than you actually are, just by her proximity; that friend whose glow is bright enough for others to bask in. The crackling of burning tobacco and the swift flick of a lighter are still some of the biggest turn-ons for me. What’s a party without a drink in one hand, and a cigarette in the other? What’s a summer night, leaning close to a new crush, talking until the sun rises, without an endless pack to draw out one thin smoke after another? What is more seductive than making eye contact over a lit flame? The sweet taste of the filter between my lips, the tobacco’s honeyed smell—reminders of the potential that one small stick contains. Yes, the potential power. Cigarettes did for me what I could not do for myself. They were my strength, my confidence, my intrigue.

And they were a constant source of underlying anxiety. I relished my image of a smoker but I was desperately afraid of being seen smoking by employers and my family. I was in the business of image management. I was the bright, young woman with a passion for organic food and crafts. And I was the misunderstood, emotionally unstable, chain-smoking writer. The two could never meet. The mental real estate this occupied was enormous.

My first cigarette was a Virginia Slim. Alex Messler, a half-Japanese 14-year-old private school kid with a faded blue streak of hair gave it to me. We were standing at the apex of the traffic triangle in Union Square. A minute before I took my first skeptical drag, I was passionately against smoking. It was an idiotic way to slowly kill yourself and alienate the people around you. But when I was offered a cigarette, I forgot all about my convictions and accepted it as if it had been a twenty-dollar bill. It was the spark of a new friendship. A week later, I had my first full cigarette. A Capri Slim. So thin to hold it now would be like holding a rolled up gum wrapper.

That waif of a cigarette pushed play on a tape that would not stop for another 10 years: When can I have another? Where will I have another? What are my chances of getting caught? How can I buy my next pack? What else do I need to give up to keep cigarettes in my life?

Perhaps this all seems quite ridiculous. There are worse things to be addicted to, right? And everybody is addicted to cigarettes. This addiction is totally unoriginal, as far as addictions go. Imagine if I was addicted to rubbing my naked body against brick walls. What an interesting story that would make. But we don’t choose who we fall for. Or what. Or how hard we fall. Perhaps I developed an insatiable hunger for comfort as a child in response to my turbulent home life. Perhaps I was born seeking it. But by the time I was offered my first cigarette, the stage had been set. Enter comfort. Enter reassurance. Enter relief. Stage right.

In Twelve Step Programs, that hunger is often referred to as a “god-sized-hole.” I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it myself. I felt empty, without fuel for a long drive. A friend once called it her “inner-scratchiness”: a cavity that clawed at my chest from the inside. I had no conception of what was supposed to have gone there. The physical experience of this void was a manifestation of the constant emotional discomfort I had only ever known. I guessed life did not look like this for everyone. But where did I get that slice of serenity that made all things fit? To be clear, cigarettes did not make everything fall into place. What they did do, however, was to provide me with pocket-sized companionship that I could draw on in moments of discomfort (read: all moments).

I told myself that I would quit when I had it all together, for then I wouldn’t need their constant reassurance. I first imagined that age of “having it all together” would be age 15—a year after I had started smoking. That would be enough, I told myself (I was 14 and was completely naïve to the angst adolescence had to offer). Fifteen came and went—my parents divorced that year and there was no way I could break it off with my best friend. So I pushed it back to 18. After all, it made sense to quit when I was in an entirely new environment at college. While David Sedaris went to Tokyo to quit smoking, I would go to Trenton, New Jersey.

As I had hoped, I didn’t have a shred of connection to home at my college— ninety-eight percent of the student body came from New Jersey, with a sprinkling of students from Pennsylvania, Delaware and upstate New York (I was the only student from Manhattan: a point that my ego seized upon). Except for my carton of Lucky Strikes, shipped from Russia, I was connectionless. My plan? I would sit outside the two main dorm buildings, smoking, waiting to be talked to. Cigarettes became my gateway friendship: the group that I later would form would be comprised entirely of smokers and that was our main campus activity. To quit then, if I had had any desire to, would have been (forgive me) social suicide.

So the “age” then became 22. I calculated one year (legally) drinking and chain smoking would give me enough memories of my friend to draw upon throughout the duration of my smoke-free life. Not even halfway through my 21st year, I pushed the age back to 25. Cigarettes and I had really hit our stride. Alcohol provided a constant honeymoon for my cigarettes and me. The key was to keep drinking. Since there was no longer had any legal-age barrier, I drank compulsively (“alcoholically,” is the apt term I later learned). Never have I felt as at ease as I did when I was drunk and chain smoking. It didn’t matter if people were around—drink in hand (and more in the bodega bag at my feet), I was only concerned about sucking face with my smokes. I felt completely free and alive in my self-centric world on an East Village stoop.

I barely made it to twenty-two. I had hit a bottom with drinking and had to put down the glass. Like a good friend, cigarettes stepped in to pick up the slack and if I could have smoked one in each hand, I would have. A pack of American Spirit Lights was my magic carpet that brought me to twelve-step meetings, to my retail job, and back home, waiting in the garage with the ignition on while I slept. My life got very small and very quiet when I stopped drinking but the volume of my thinking became deafening: the neighbors were banging on my door, telling me to turn it down. Cigarettes sifted my thoughts and my feelings, allowing me to sit through some while pushing down the rest.

Quitting in sobriety brought up the very real and very familiar thoughts of suicide. If they go, I go, I reasoned.

This is not a drill.

My relationship with cigarettes was the kind of on-again-off-again relationship you pray to never be in. You see couples go through it and you can’t imagine how they possibly stay together, even though you can’t picture them with anyone else. I have tried to storm out the house on cigarettes after late night fights. I have wasted countless dollars tossing barely smoked packs on impulse-quit attempts (this happened so frequently that I took to leaving them on stoops instead of in trash cans so at least the $12 pack wasn’t wasted but rather regifted). I have broken them in fits of frustration and roughly inhaled them in make-up sex.

“I can’t quit you.”

But really. I couldn’t.

And then one day in October, when the air was crisp and brittle leaves dragged along the concrete, I stopped. Just like that. I woke up with the knowledge that I would be successful this time. It was like someone had suddenly stopped the tape and all of the noise cut off. I wish I had a different ending to this story—truly I do. “I woke up and didn’t have the desire to anymore” is the kind of spiritual magic nonsense I scoffed at. It can’t be personalized and recreated. There are no formulas or steps to pass on. Except perhaps this:

There is a moment when that thought comes you. It says, gently, “it’s time.” This isn’t a new experience—people in all fields and subjects have written about that little (it’s always described as little, isn’t it?) voice that nudges you through a window of willingness to do whatever it is your afraid of facing—quitting cigarettes, writing a novel, leaving the person you thought you were going to marry.

I thought I would spend my life with cigarettes. I thought we would grow old(ish) together, sitting on a porch, drinking whiskey, with the whole day ahead of us. I could not fathom a world in which I would be comfortable enough standing in my own skin to let my little cancer-causing friend go. I could not conceive of a life where I didn’t need a barrier of lit tobacco between you and me to feel safe.

In hindsight, we always know when the relationship is over before it ends, don’t we? Learn the language of instinct. Do all that you can to provide a chamber for that confident little voice to resonate in. Listen for that moment when the mistakes you’ve made and experiences you’ve had finally culminate in a quiet strength to face the unknown. Cigarettes are predictable. What they disguise is infinitely more terrifying and beautiful than I ever imagined.

Does someone else’s drinking bother you?

December 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Short answer: yes.

Yes, I take it personally. My thinking operates under the assumption that your heavy drinking or drug use is making up for what I lack. If I were enough, you wouldn’t need drugs and alcohol to feel better. Drop the middle from that sentence: If I were enough, I could make you feel better. Therefore, I am not enough.

This logic has very little to do with the limits of human potential. This logic does not account for depression, alcoholism, bipolarism, dysmorphia, i.e. having little (nothing) to do with me.

“Why am I not enough for you?” I asked my ex-boyfriend once, as he left the bed to pack a bowl. “Why do you have to get high when I’m here?”

He looked at me, incredulous, his lighter held like a question in his hand. “If you don’t want me to smoke around you, I won’t.”

I corrected him. “I don’t want you to smoke when I’m here because you don’t want to.” I want to be your drug. I want your cup to run over with me. 

Put me back into that slope-ceilinged, smoke filled room, with the axe body-spray and the carved wooden pipes. Put me back there and I’ll stand on the other side of the question: Why am I not enough for me?

How can I be enough for me?

Something like this:

 

 

Here’s an old(er) one…

May 3rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Turn it over

 

You is

the soil turned over

breathin out the life

flickrin beneath

plantin your fingers in

to them derty tears

 

Your eyes close up & say

here ‘xists sometin

vulnerable

(dragging the vowels deep)

and it tastes okay.

 

Your lips budding

with sometin savory,

sometin to save.

 

Watchu got dere?

ya know, it’s a bit raw

but tying us on in

like skin to scabs

scabs to scars

scars to dat dere

so-il,

you dig.

 

We dig

turning it over.

 

Turn it on over to me.

 

as in fat

February 24th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

 

i is quite heavy

as in fat

also

as in sad, forlorn

yet if i tie my limbs

to de floor

i’m doing nada to the

movement of time

not quite heavy enough to

slow earth’s slow roll &

too fat, also sad, forlorn,

to safely ride in de general

direction. i tink i’m carryin

someone else on me waistline

two of us

wrapped lak a burning match

consuming

&overfed

 

 

 

 

 

Tuned Taut

October 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Hips tick to the kickdrum

Body laced, tuned taut.

It’s a tight rhythm of

perfection.

 

I have seen people

take their own lives

Before dinner parties, or

Eye knives on honeymoon.

 

There has never been a day

where we’ve rolled outside

Never to relish

luxuriate

sprawl

 

What can be measured in frozen peas

or cut out of magazines?

A container. To contain. Tame.

Prune. Pick. Paralyze.

 

This is what we starve for:

A “stay there,

forever.”

 

 

Longing

July 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

in da length of de tapeworm

i found me longing

 

tell me you is growing down

wit all dis introspection

or is you gettin hungrier?

 

things dat were once forgivable

wears dere skin turned in

 

dese bones are crosshatch shadings

on what longing leaves

behind

 

where it slithers, it be a deeper carve

 

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