Worth Your Life

This confirms my sense that I have been allowed to use my life well, in work that was worth the time spent on it. 

This is a quote by Ursula K. Le Guin from the foreword of her essay collection Words Are My Matter. When I read this collection in 2016, I was moved by many of the pieces but I cannot say that any in particular stuck out to me in such a way that I could recall them now in vivid detail. Though, I am sure that in revisiting some, they would sound familiar in ways unexpected and welcome.

Reading most books is this way, each becomes part of me but more like they run through my blood together as a collective liquid life, one idea flowing right into the next and melting into new blended form, thus enriching, nourishing one another. That is to say, each book does not become its own single part of me, a bone or a tooth or a limb, but rather pours into who and what I already am, and then stays with me like an undercurrent of ever renewed and renewing life force.

In the dark hours of this morning, as I sipped my coffee and listened to the sifting of the crickets buzzing outside my window, I picked up Le Guin’s collection once again and re-read the foreword, coming upon this sentence which cut right to my center.

Perhaps the timing is uncanny and that is why these words in particular held my little sleepyhead face in their hands. I have spent my whole life writing, and have changed, evolved, and grown as a writer and consumer of the word (I believe, I hope).

But right now, in my life this minute, at the very top of today, a day on top of so many which have been rocked by fear and catastrophe, wonder and hope and uncertainty, I find myself wondering, why? What has it all been for, and have my values changed over all this time in a way that means going forward I will take a new path in my writing.

Could I have more intimate, intricate things to say?

How can I be sure I know that late in life, when I look back, I too can say I have used my life well, in work that was worth the time.

 

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Photo by Elia Pellegrini

Spirits (audio)

The hands of the clock slide down the wall as shadows dance playfully in the quiet fading light of evening. Creaks in the floorboards remind me of haunted things, each sudden sound a touch on my shoulder and I could swear someone was there.

The silence gets to you, toys with your senses and knocks your sense of perception just off enough to make you wonder whether or not you are losing your mind. These days, of course, how would you even know.

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid in the backyard right before a rainstorm? How the little hairs on your tiny arm would stand on end at the first distant rumble of thunder, the smell of the earth mingled with moisture, and a rush of electric excitement would course through your veins? Those moments felt so alive to me, more alive than so many moments now all grown up.

Something of the magic falls vacant inside. What it feels like to have faith in a universe which can still surprise you in a way that you can hold in your heart forever.

How long ago was forever?

Sipping my wine, I look out above the empty street. I watch glittery specks of light pierce the dark as the stars come out all over the globe. The curtains blow in the sweet summer nightwind against my cheek.

When I close my eyes, I can feel something in the atmosphere as it is breathing.

A sound like footsteps in the hall as a kid lying still beneath the blankets in the dark. I could have sworn someone was there.

 

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Photo by Elia Pellegrini

Mind’s Eye

Crawling up close to me, he tries to pull me under the covers to fall back asleep but I want none of it so I get up quick and slide out of the bedroom, pulling the door closed softly behind me. There is another world which calls to me like a siren, and I need to get to her before she disappears out over the horizon with the first light of dawn.

It’s not him, it’s me. I can’t take the noise in my head and I can’t fold my body into sex anymore, it’s all just too loud. I’ve got too much on my mind. I know that sounds obnoxious, but I would hush the whole world if I could just to find some kind of quiet meaning in all of this.

I am drawn to the page even as the page causes me such terrible trouble. My system is a wreck of words and nerves, desires and dreams, and for some reason it’s the early morning hours that plunge me straight into the depths of my most favorite beautiful chaos.

The midnight ocean mind is where the real seduction is, imagination, fantasy, escape. The mind is the muscle of the soul, someone wise and luminous once said. To think for yourself is holy work. And perhaps it is. Perhaps what I am searching for is grace, enlightenment, some kind of profound answer to the questions I do not yet know how to ask in a way that would reveal me to myself.

As the full bright moon glows like a single light bulb up in an empty sky, I realize that so often my mind feels completely disconnected from my soul, and everything else in my life. I go through the motions like everyone else but inside is a whole other universe, a whole other story. One that begs to be told.

This is me. I am an attempt to touch that place, and touch it, and touch it alone.

 

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Photo by Davide Ragusa

In the Name of Nothing Holy (audio)

There is whisky in the water and there is death upon the vine, but I just sit here drinking white wine in the late afternoon, wondering what it would feel like to run out into the open like an animal, barefoot, naked, into the drenching summer rain.

I imagine the slickness of my whole body, the way my sex awakens for the warmth of liquid nature, until I lose myself.

I once heard an alcoholic say she doesn’t drink to take the edge off, she drinks to disappear. Addicts. Addictions. Labels. Cures. We are parents and wives and husbands and children. We dream too big or not at all, we walk a thin line and try our hands at the things we hope can save our lives.

From what? From whom?

I smell the earth rising up as the heavens fall gently in sheets against the pavement, wet the grass, wet the street, slide in swirling rivers down through the grates at the corner.

Rainfall, succulent relief. Just the sound of it arouses every sense within me, my skin reacts, my mind quiets, breathes, unfolds. Perhaps my psyche is a flower, blossoming, delicate, thirsty.

The weightlessness of beauty tangles around the heaviness which I have become accustomed to carrying in my bones. It is coiled in my womb. If one more person uses the phrase; now more than ever before, I will scream. Everything, it seems, is dying or heading there, at warp speed.

This mad world sets itself in motion but the swiftness of its spinning, its wretched eagerness to exceed, sets it on fire. I can see it through the screen as I watch from the upstairs bedroom window.

There are laws and guns and money. There is sex and family and greed. Cancer and houseplants and ignorance. The sky is mellowing, the rain is so soft as to almost fall silent, to pull down a veil of silence, over me.

Taking a pen from the drawer, I open my notebook. My heart is a clench of terrible loneliness. And the pen feels right and hard in my fingers, and the page waits hopefully for me there.

But how could I possibly?

What on earth was it I thought I wanted to say?

 

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Photo by Daria Nepriakhina

Something to Believe In

It’s about having something to believe in, he says to me with something quite like, but not exactly, conviction in his eyes. As the words jut from his mouth like a stiff tongue down the throat (more probe than aphrodisiac), I watch his hands moving in such a way as to emphasize his point, which I think he thinks is revolutionary for me but in reality causes me to question everything I’ve ever thought about him all over again.

This is not a rare occurrence, my questioning of him, my questioning of myself, of the entire meaning of existence and my specific mysterious random place within it. If I could take a stab at it, I would guess I cycle through what could be called a collapse of certainty or lack of confidence in a world which proves itself untrustworthy at many a turn, every hour on the hour.

And here we sit, across from one another in a small room, coffee and cigarettes and he looking exquisitely poised as he gazes poetically out the window at nothing in particular. A tiny bird zips by, catching my eye in the split second its small body appears, then disappears, in the afternoon sun.

Observing the tense of his jaw, the subtle flex of his strong arms as he tilts back in his chair, I can feel the way I build up and knock down each emotion he causes to swell up within me. I know exactly what love feels like and I don’t know anything at all about love.

I ride and swing empty punches at the waves. Meanwhile, in his palms he wishes to offer me the idea of belief, as if in justice or peace or charity, kindness or boldness or nobility. Belief as some kind of final resolve, so I can relax. So I can sleep. So I can move ahead.

So I could be less intense, less afraid.

As if the questioning would produce, suddenly, some kind of satisfying answer. As if the questioning itself weren’t the only thing I trust.

 

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Photo by Yohann Libot

Through to the Other Side

Morning is still a deep ocean blue outside my window as the cool air moves in over my skin. Accepting the periwinkle dawn’s invitation into another day, I slide out of bed and into a hoodie and head downstairs for an obscenely large mug of coffee.

I read the news on my phone, or a bit of it, before clicking the stupid thing off and tossing it face down on the desk in my writing room. The news of the day is the news of the minute is hardly news at all when you’re so jittery you can’t remember what’s come before or after anything else.

And this is, of course, how they want you. Internally chaotic, externally enraged. Afraid. So twisted into knots that you oscillate yourself perpetually between two states of being: immobile and flailing. Away. Out of their way as they make their way into a brave new apocalypse.

But you know what they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

I make my way through a day as anyone might, coffee, writing, office, wine, dinner with my beloved, with whom I discuss some things and not others because we have learned each other well by now. Time passes and you arrange yourself into the habits and kinks, making of commitment and attraction as nuanced a cocktail as you can divine.

As the sun is swallowed behind dark clouds of nightfall, I consider giving up the bottle for good, but decide now isn’t the time and sink into bath water hot enough to turn the soft skin on my thighs bright red as I submerge below lavender bubbles. There is a hardness inside which melts a little into the beautiful heat, steaming itself off of my bones, soothing my numbed nerves.

As I lower my face beneath the water I imagine another place and another time, and a childlike innocence sweeps across my tender lost little heart. When I come up for air and open my eyes, will it be different? Will it be better if we make it to the other side?

 

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Photo by Velizar Ivanov

Miser With Your Thoughts

Locusts are thrusting their brittle wings in the high tree tops, making a sound like they can’t stop shivering, which is odd given the thick summer heat.

I pour a crisp glass of white and set it down to sweat on the back porch table, while I light a cigarette on my way to grab the mail. Squinting behind my dark sunglasses, my eyes travel in the direction of two young girls walking toward the basketball courts, wearing cut offs so short you can see the tanned round curves of their perfect little asses dimpling in the slant of the sun as it cuts clear across the neighborhood.

A dog barks across the way, and for a second I think he’s mine before I remember he isn’t, and the mail gets delivered and I head back for my wine in my bare feet.

I make thousands of such useless observations a day but never think to share them. Who would read my thoughts, even if they could, even for free?

I think it was Nin who said something to the effect of not holding back, not being stingy or, what was it exactly? I wrote it down in a notebook someplace, give me a minute…

Ah, yes, this:

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of the fullness.

What a thing to have said, to ever say. A woman unafraid of fullness.

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Photo by Yohann LIBOT

The Knots Begin

It’s the part of the morning when the sky is whitish-pink, blush. With a kiss of promise, thin. Fleeting. The knots begin their tightening in my stomach, and I worry: will this be a good, safe day? Somewhere it isn’t. And I am so porous (I misspell this, pourous, and imagine my body as a vessel, emptying, emptying, like a flood crushes stone) I’m not sure I can tell anymore what’s in here, and what’s out there. It’s all come inside, inside and crouches like an animal. Coils and coils of panicked stillness. Trembling hesitation. Everything is covered with eyes, all blinked observation. Everything from all sides, inside, outside, watching. Vigilance without aim is fear. Peach light seeping over the grass, melting wet and buzzing in the trees.

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Photo by Yohann LIBOT

Skies Like Scars

Say, everything is going to be alright. Mean it but be unsure of yourself, just enough that I can feel it weighting down my limbs.

Hold me close, almost too close. Feel how I can’t breathe. Afraid to breathe anyway, not sure I remember how. There was a time. I am almost certain of it.

When the air wasn’t so tight.

When I could taste the sounds of cars rushing on the highway late at night, when I would hum with the quick pulse of my machinery.

When my veins were the color of soft pewter
and I didn’t even notice
them.
Or stare.

Say, you are so lucky, you’re an angel, made for this.

Say, it only hurts at first, say, but that’s okay.

And it does.
And you’re not sure if it is.

But you let it burn
for as long as you can in case
you don’t know yourself well enough yet

to know better.

 

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Photo by Anthony Tran

Underneath

Perhaps you thought the words would save you, from what you did not know. If you could only locate the right ones. The ones more precious than any of the hundreds of thousands you had written before in the clouds as they soared by overhead, into a pale gray distance you dreamed to explore.

Morning dawns in your chest, pinks and blues and lightning bolts. I have a dear friend who shares my bed, stalks my mind, and I refuse to believe that he needs me for anything.

Anxiety. (Generalized.) The shaking spreads itself through everything and you are fascinated by its smoothness, obsessed with your inability to collect it back in. Watch over it, wade into it, like an oil spill, black ink slides out across the vast dark ocean of the void.

We open our hearts and touch our lips to one another for want of the emptiness. Thirsty. You are the taste of sunlight falling through trees, the secrets which twist and ache to keep.

Under lock and key, the tongue keeps hidden inside your stifled breath. You tap at the keyboard just to feel your heart beating. Almost surprised, almost, unlikely. There are multiple lives you live all at once and they each ring separately in your ears, hoping to be the one who is heard.

It is hard to tell. It is difficult to hear the answer among the answers.

Above all else. Beyond all the noise and the rattling which exhausts your veins with trembling. When it is very hard to see, I don’t know how the words can save me.

But still, even inside the madness, something believes I should believe.

 

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Photo by Vino Li