as the slush and snow come down, a light inside you flickers and burns on. it is like the silence comforting itself. it soothes you by taking over the world around you, lifting it from your shoulders allowing you to feel weightless, if just for a little while. the coffee is fresh and the blankets are warm and the pages you covet have not been written yet. you think of all the people who do not understand you and you try to use the eyes of your mind to peer at them up close. blank skin, rough hands. hollow chests. concentrating very hard, you can see the whiteness of the small bones in their wrists, taught like stringed instruments straining for sound. then one by one they turn their heads, roll their heels, turn the corner, turn a season from wind to dust and fall like curling orange leaves away from the garden you have so tenderly sown.
because you were conceived in the womb of a thirsty woman, the letting go becomes a work of art.
perhaps the gray in the sky is as much like you as your fingerprints. though you see them — the tiny slices in the skin as well as the falseness of the wide-set sky — you cannot hold them. though they resemble all the sadnesses you do not know how to express, you know deep inside they are more yours than anything else in all the world. you pull the blankets around you tighter and tuck your knees up to your breasts. you think about how people are uncomfortable around you and how when you feel their discomfort you take it in. you hate yourself for causing anyone harm but you do not know how to stop yourself from seeping into them. this shame becomes the fear you cannot name. you open your mouth to force the words to keep the discomfort at a distance. so long as there are words, there are lines. so long as there are lines, the fear cannot cross over.
the room you live in is perfectly still. awash in the coldness of the rain on the window, you cannot help but remember there is a sun someplace kicking up dirt. the way it is still burning the earth and in its mindless glare, forgot to leave you.
There is a phrase floating around in mainstream culture that goes: “Choose joy.” It always both attracted and disgusted me. I used to think that it meant you always had to be happy, put on a happy front, a happy face, a smile, always be “on.” Which, of course, to an introvert like me who has a forever romance with melancholy and dark enchantment, sounded completely exhausting.
Choose joy – which should have sounded light and beautiful – to me sounded heavy and constricting. As though for me to live the ‘proper way’ I would have to forbid myself to ever feel lows or pains or listlessness or longing or sadness or hurt or shattered or beaten down by the world which in so many ways thrives on beating us down.
But now I have made a strange sort of peace with what ‘choose joy’ means to me. It doesn’t have to mean what it means to anyone else, that is okay. Now I see that for me, I choose joy when I choose myself and my honest loves, passions, desires, fascinations, and interests. For me there is joy – perhaps an odd joy, a strange delight in the view of some people – in the gray rain, in the heavy lament, in the way a shadow drapes itself across a lonely figure in her hour of darkness.
For a long time I wrestled with what I thought were two opposing paths – that of the inspirational writer, and that of the poet who bends affectionately toward the sadness of loss, death, grief, the anguish of a life as well as the ecstasy. But the truth is that joy is not always a smile and inspiration is not always uplifting. It may bring you hope but it may sink you deeper first. There is so much more richness and nuance in all of life than in just the pursuit of “happiness” whatever that means.
My joy is not a plastic smile. My joy is in the vast tumultuous sea of human emotion, exploration, discovery. My joy is a feast.
just to hear you breathing, tiny in your ungrown shell, has done more to bring me life than the air itself could do. dim is the room and bright is the candle in your eyes. whatever i have done or undone i cannot imagine i deserve this particular type of grace. the kind which is effortless, the kind which fills the hunger and ribbons about the bones and slides easily like soft rivers from the tongue. this is the caress of the darkness of which no one ever speaks. there are no sounds, no words, nothing to repeat. for all the voices, all the years that ever were, pass by this single secret place in a moment. in a blink. how few open their hands and give like this. without even trying.
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my throat had overgrown so thick i could get nothing out, words: broken pieces lodged and incomplete. it had been three weeks since the sun eclipsed the shadows underfoot, eternity since the taste of your body reminded me of love.
perhaps we move through the things which refuse to move through us. we push and inch along to pass the time, to extend the distance between ourselves as we may be and ourselves as we once were. in the quiet static behind an evening door, i touch myself to feel alive.
another day turned into dusk, pours itself from bottles of wine. unable to move beyond my own bones, my own howling mind, i type letters by the watery light of woolen snow.
this life is the imminent stroke of midnight just next to me, i feel her breath against my cheek. footsteps, coming dark. they arrange to feed us what they cannot accept, hoping we will be strong enough.
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i had never come so close to protection like you. with such gravity and depth, such friction i nearly refused my own breathing just to relieve the heat. in the presence of power, the mind is first stripped of itself, followed blindly by the body. we are born undone by love and turned away from what we believe (hold fast). this has become a day like all the others. it has become a night after a night alone with the night itself: a virgin, a war crime, a bargaining chip. a static hall of secret pain, hushed low tones wrenched at the hinge of the half-beaten heart.
tapping upon the door, tapping upon the window sill, as the rain bleeds itself wet with the cold movement of the passing of time. to think of summer underneath willowy trees, to imagine sunlight burning through leaves; these are the gifts we grant ourselves in times of grief. imaginings. fleeting silhouettes. to be taken away. to make a frail cup of steaming tea and tuck our fears to bed until a brighter morning. i wish every voice would say it. but they each fell apart, not one after another but all at once, because of each other. the noise and the silence, both loud in disgust.
i wish we had no reason to fight so hard (hold fast).
as if to eat the fog and live like freedom, we exist as ghosts gliding alone over the stone gray hills. soaked in smoke, calling on death. graveyards in the clutch of our heels. reflections in the crystal droplets suspended, would i allow myself a drink. humbled grasses grow weary atop the soul of an afterlife promised, then revoked. children taken from children. blood of innocents in the breaking of bread.
the world offers no hand. the dark, no shadow figure with which to speak.
in silence the leaves move, only when your eyes rest upon them. self-consciousness is of all living and intimate things. everything which pulses can savor pleasure and detect pain, some entwine the two. the patterns of the skin restructure themselves at the introduction of touch.
i’m waiting for you in a dark room where curtains skim the ceiling and the floors. each shadow encloses a shadow and extends. all across the city the sky tilts its giant black face up toward a sky of its own, which is below a sky we’ll never reach.
there are some people who possess such a vibration that they can enter a room without physically being present. just the thought of you is enough to send rushing my affection, my desire; to command the taut, prickling attention of my entire being.
on the side table, pillowy blossoms in a gold-stained vase flush crimson with expectation.
as the darkness opens herself to a low glowing simmer, i lay back upon the kingly bed. the rich polished wood of this room stands still, stands close. through a window i can see the moon and the way the clouds thinly veil and then fully expose her in clear cold turns.
my love, for how long. for the minutes are hours and this hour i am held within is the mouth of the breathing of a tortured god. here in my chest, the soft nature of the waiting creature. the patient burning seed.
One of the things I’m challenging myself to do this year is to go deeper into myself and find what I am yearning to say. It’s such a basic and simple idea but in practice it is exceedingly difficult. I find I have to break through many layers, many atmospheres, many illusions. The layers of fear, laziness, and judgment I inflict upon myself. The atmosphere of environment, media, discomfort, those voices which seem to emerge slowly and deeply from imaginary walls to make me uneasy, to question my ability, sincerity, resolve, dedication. Are you brave enough? Are you woman enough? Have you the spirit of the lion, the wolf, the dove? The questioning is enough some days to break me clean in two.
And of course, then too, are the many illusions which threaten to derail my inner quest by slyly and insistently (like a deceitful child who pretends for a kiss and then smacks you on the head) turning my attention outward. This is especially difficult because our entire culture wants us affixed to the illusion of “out there.” What will they think? Is this what they want, they need, they expect? Is it right? Is it good? Will it attract enough people to matter? The artist must cut through all of this to get into herself. To find what she alone perceives, what she in her soul, her heart, her mind, her body, feels, knows, believes.
What grows within me is mine alone. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work to get to it. Inside I am wide open. Unexplored terrain. This is what it means then. To go into the wild.
as the sky falls into the melody of another fiery evening, i am listening to a soft strong voice glide out from the radio. this voice believes in something i am trying to understand. in beauty, in tenderness, in the promise of the ocean glittering at midday. i am alone and clammed by air too warm for February. removing my shirt and my shoes, rubbing the aches in my bare feet. the rich smoothness in the voice’s words becomes the body of a man i wonder if i’d ever have had the courage to become.
birds are floating up above the catch of gray trees and the sun crawls lower into the belly of this lonely planet. i watch the people on tv streaming live, grasping, desperate for hope which has all but escaped them. what would you offer us, and who would you like us to pretend to be. how is the daily bread to be made when suffering comes in stinging waves without relent. the amount of pain they carry, we carry, i carry, the little ones carry. how will we get out of here. how will we get on in this graveyard nightmare game.
there is a gun and there is a child. the gun is cradled, sheltered, protected. and the human fabric shreds itself from the outside in. we pull apart our hearts and they are full of small bones, of vigils, of lead.
the distant radio mouth is still weighted with song. it sings the words. it breathes out and in. but there is no relief.
I write from a place — this place, the expanse of this unending now, with her tangled anguish and desire piled atop my head waiting to fall undone around me in cascades of impossible strawberry blonde. Frustration. Boredom. Stubborn resolve. Pleading. Waiting. Exploring. It is a way to die, to be raised up anew.
There is a place where the words come from which no writer has ever touched, and yet we can all speak of it, reach for it, make love to it. The thing about writing is you must turn the heels of all thought inward and stop walking away from the hushed life which calls to you in constant: the shadowy brow of coming night slanted across an empty wall, the screech of dark tree limbs against the back of your memory. People build entire lives out of turning away. They turn away from the sweet cream of every day and ram themselves into suit jackets and briefcases and monstrous stone buildings with blank faces to match their own. Under the flags blowing wild against a barren winter sky they march away, away, away into glass doors, into steel rooms, out of their own bleeding hearts.
And here in the mist of twilight are the unlikely hands of writers, mighty and meek. The ones who cherish the words as if each one were warm and sacred (even the words which ruin, even the words which despair) . You do not turn away. Not you. You with your fire mind and the glow you sleep inside, dream inside, speak of without even trying. You turn inward and both curse and savor the confusing pleasure of it. You who have been made of something mysterious which tugs at the veins. A quiet ache which places flowers at the center of the womb, weeps, and bears fruit.
And what is there really but fear and little breaks in the fear now and again. In your mouth, the cold wet suburban streets calling for no one. You trace the quiet desperation that rings itself around your week-old coffee mug and cherish the meek sadness of the rain which has gone on for decades underneath your skin. You try to write but all the photographs are full of messages you cannot keep from weighing down your mind. Time is always someone else’s. Every person has a camera and each image is a waste because they are the same and never stop. The people, their hurt-filled eyes, the ignorance of their blackened words in constant.
A soft girl dressed in white dances before the sun, they are setting into the sickness of green seaside.
I suppose I am afraid for all the reasons anyone would be afraid. The deafness of silence and the way a scream fills the bathwater. The fear which both bridges and divides one moment and the next as the evening comes but not carefully enough. There is a moment I can feel in my chest like a song you wrote but not for me, an empty beach in December which drifts in the marrow of my bones. You do not meet me and you are everywhere. You are faceless without body or tongue, though all I do in these dead hours of sliding panic is imagine you exist. A place I can lay down inside forever.
An opening in the blue.
We no longer seek for breaks of light. We no longer hear the ticking of the clock. The photographs and the people they capture, continue falling like rain for ages.