Inside the American Nightmare

A few words appear, then disappear in reverse.

We say it and don’t say it. We ‘Happy New Year’ and scuttle away as fast as our fragile bones can take us to the safety of isolation once again.

What do you even say when your country is falling to hell.

The melon sky simmers the last of the winter day’s sky into smoke as I close my eyes and dream of anywhere else.

It happens like this: you are repeatedly filled simultaneously with shock and dread. As you are trying to process the horror of the most recent trauma, you are bracing yourself also for the next.

And there is always a next.

And this is repeated for years and years non-stop. The relentlessness of cruelty. The cheering on of the madness.

What is even worth saying when you are so exhausted by the end of the day your stomach hurts and your eyes ache and everything around you is cold as the icicles you saw last weekend, formed into perfect sharp daggers by frozen rushes of water plunging through the trees.

It is not enough to survive. You have to try to do it minute by minute, focus on each heart beat, each update, each revelation more gruesome than the last, you have to cling to each, like stepping stones you grab with your fists or your teeth.

The angriest parts of yourself, the saddest, they cling. they try to move you forward in spite of themselves. In spite of you.

Try to hold on. Try to hold on, it has to be over soon.

But nothing ends anymore. Not around here.

I’m sick to death of counting down to things. Dates. Elections. Deaths. Infections. Decisions. Betrayals. Disasters we should have seen coming.

We should have stopped it. It should never have come to this.

And so a deep well of disappointment, of desperation for a time gone by, opens up inside to swallow the shock and the dread and the utter, utter grief. And you realize the abyss they threw you into is threatening now the last of your sanity, your will, your equilibrium.

And if you understand what I am saying here, if you know how this feels, people will tell you not to feel it. They will try to cheer you up, make you see the good things, they will try to force your healing before it is time.

And you can tell them all to fuck off. Because I will tell you this, above everything else, feel your feelings. The true ones. If they are honest they are hurting, aching, crying, screaming.

This has been an American tragedy over and over and over for years.

We got here by denial. We laid our faith down in a bed of lies and hoped someone else would save us.

I am not sure why I write this, maybe to document my experience for fear it drifts away from me, even though I kind of wish it would.

We should be most afraid that we may forget. They want nothing more than for us to forget.

I try to catch all of it. I try to write it into history, but my mind gets heavy and my spirit falls like frigid winter rain.

It is tiresome, you know? This waiting for the end.

 

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Photo by Mike Palmowski

She Was an American Girl

Breathing is harder than it should be.

I have to remind myself to do it.

I watch the sunset. A giant white glowing orb sinking into the veins of the dead winter trees. They aren’t in fact dead, of course, but their gnarled bare branches, snaked shadow fingers creeping toward the gray sky could fool you.

Graveyards. Concrete. Insurrection. The year that won’t seem to end hasn’t really ended, I still feel it lumped in my throat. Pricking at the back of my eyes inside my skull.

There are seasons but this one is more stubborn than the rest.

And we choke on the things we try to run from. And the sky blooms darker than it ever dared before. As we shuffle our feet and ignore the signs.

I remember to breathe but only because someone on Twitter reminds me to by accident. I shut off my phone and light up a cigarette in the quiet, watching the twilight evening descend. I haven’t been able to write a goddamn thing since I don’t know when.

Time exists on some alternate continuum which has little care for we human beings and the monsters we let grow out of control.

I don’t know how anyone does it. Keep the faith. I think about the ones who died believing in something which killed them.

I think about how he does not mourn, not anything. And the endless possibilities that leaves him in the end.

My love brings me wine and a kiss as everything we do not say falls around us like a kind of grief we aren’t sure how to hold because we don’t know if we are at the end or the beginning of the pain.

Taking a drink, I count the first few glimmering stars and swallow the fear and think about all the people out there who seem to be dealing with this so much better than I am.

For all the hype and optics and posing, dry January sure picked a hell of a month.

And somewhere out there across this land, this earth, this hellish place which is so lost and so broken and so angry and so cold, the sun is coming up.

Somewhere, as my tears won’t come and my heart won’t stop, it’s morning.

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Photo by Can Şerefoğlu

For What It’s Worth

It’s not everyday you look back over your life and try to string the dots together to make sense of the mess but today, it seems, is such a day.

This kind of thing happens at the end of any year I suppose, the reflecting, collecting, sifting through what happened, what you did or didn’t do with the time you had.

So much waste. So much treasure. And in the end what is it all for? Where have you come from and where have you gone?

The trees in the field are soft and strong and standing naked and alone under a blank pale sky. Winter is a part of everything now. In the icy running stream, in the sharp invisible air current beneath the tiny bird who soars silently into a bush of holly for shelter.

It is possible for a year to be stolen from you, you know that now in a way you hadn’t before. The rich and powerful will use what they have to bury you alive. Annihilation of the mind. Did you not know evil was a kind of intelligence or did you just forget?

It is a strange thing to wrap what’s left of your sanity around and an even stranger thing to fold into your heart in order never to forget. We make choices, we make selections, and we watch as chunks of our former selves float off far and away.

There is a new year coming around the corner, I can smell it like a wood fire burning, burning, as I pull on my boots and step out into the cold December air. I can feel it in my bones as shivers spike down my spine.

When the snow begins to fall, I duck under my hood and turn away from the wind.

All this time I have been given crowds and bursts in my chest like a flower desperate to bloom. I bite my tongue and close my eyes just to feel my skin without the noise.

It is the middle of the holiday week and all is quiet and still inside and all around. There is a certain kind of mood that is twinkle lights switched off and dead holiday decorations scattered on front lawns. Some kind of party is over that never quite began. It is the morning after and we are clutching our breasts on the wet walk home.

But there is beauty in the wreckage in our veins. There is a flicker of warmth in wide open sky.

How full of stories we seem to be but yet who dares to tell theirs out loud? Even to the bed sheets, even to the laptop screen. Who wants to see herself up that close and if she does what does that say about her.

Neurotic or adventurer? Poet or circus freak?

How much of what you worry about ever comes true? Has it been worth it to hang on or are you ready to just cut loose, come clean, break free?

As I make my way back along a side street, the purple evening sky begins her quiet descent over the white frozen hills. I can hear the geese cry out as their thick black bodies fly together in a V over head.

How this life comes at you screaming even as it’s drifting away.

All this churning in our souls as we decide how much we’ll say.

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Photo by Taylor Harding

The Rain Beneath Your Skin

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 being 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.

 

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Photo by Christopher Ott

My Greatest Wish for Disillusioned Artists at the End of 2020

 

When I came across this passage in my readings the other day, it stopped me in my tracks. I re-read these particular lines a few times, letting them sink in. It was the first time I read something about exactly what I have been feeling for a few years now, most especially this year:

“I have written a lot of articles and several books about Russia’s transformation under Vladimir Putin, but the experience I’ve always found hardest to describe is one of feeling as if creativity and imagination were sucked out of society after he came to power. The reason is not so much censorship or even intimidation as it is indifference. When the state took over television, for example, it wasn’t just that the news was censored: it was that the new bosses didn’t care about the quality of the visuals or the writing. The same thing happened in other media, in architecture, in filmmaking. Life in an autocracy is, among other things, dull.” – Masha Gessen, for the The New Yorker

One of the insidious cruelties of living through an attempted coup by a sadistic psychopathic wanna-be dictator and his fellow goons is one that goes unspoken but not unnoticed by the artist.

When you are made to be constantly on alert for the next crazed dangerous act against the dignity of humanity, you enter into survival mode. What to watch for? How to know when it’s “really bad”? If it is really bad, what even do you do to protect yourself, the ones you love?

You become obsessed with understanding the new hell hole you find yourself in suddenly. At some point, and you can never quite put your finger on that point, it all becomes life or death. Sink or swim. Put up or shut up.

And all the while, a numbness toward your own writing, your own art, your own creativity, seems to have permanently lodged itself within your own spirit. You feel as if access to your very soul has been hijacked.

It becomes impossible to create the way you used to because you used to be able to detach yourself from the world entirely in order to touch the freedom inside of you, the wilderness. How that wilderness would welcome you readily into her beautiful dark.

When a leader disregards all life and crushes the pursuit of liberty and freedom for all every five seconds, a cloud of hopelessness, numbness, uselessness, descends into your body little by little. And because you are so disoriented by the noise and the chaos and the shock and the anger, you do not seem to realize what is happening to you.

Until you want to create something and find exhaustion where vitality used to be.

Indifference where curiosity once thrived.

I haven’t talked about this with anyone, but this is what I have been experiencing for a long time now. I haven’t told anyone because until I read the above passage, I didn’t really even know what I was feeling.

There will be a push for us to forget, to sweep all of the brutality of the past four years under the rug and just move on. Pretend it never happened.

But if you forfeit your opportunity to name what happened, to understand the depths of the wounds you have at the hands of a lunatic with a lust for death and destruction, how will you ever recover your creativity?

There has to be a clearing, or perhaps more precisely, a clarity. A clear awareness of what you have endured, what it felt like, why it felt that way.

Because you are never going back to the way it was before. Now you have experienced the madness and the shock of the realization that blunt viciousness can also cause a dullness within. Abuse causes a dulling of the senses without your even realizing it because your nerves are too busy fraying at the edges over and over and over again.

The next twelve days are holidays for me. I’m planning to close out this terrible year with a great deal of quietude, soul searching, reading, poetry, journaling, and time in nature.

I love the winter. The solace of the silence of the snowy cold and endless white-blanketed fields.

With all my heart I hope that we artists are not buried for good, but slumbering.

That in the darkness we learn again to thaw, again to melt, again to let go.

Again to dream.

 

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Photo by Hannah Gullixson

Writing the Ache: On Needing Poetry for Life

Writing away the ache is a real and true thing. It is, that is to say, it becomes, a lifestyle. The pressure builds and builds as with any addiction until you can no longer manipulate your mind or body away from what you most desire.

From what you must say, what must be said to keep you from exploding.

How devastating it can be, then, when you come breathless to the page and find yourself full of nothing, empty hands, a mouthful of anguish which opens to dead air.

It is as much a coping mechanism as a ‘passion.’ Makes you wonder if those who are so prolific are those who are also most troubled, most bothered, most distracted by things yet unwritten.

What must go on inside the psyche of the poet which so stirs, compels, claws, needs. The burning desire to express oneself while wrestling with the arrogance of that, the heavy need to reveal oneself and the shame which circles that very real need, stalking in the shadows, stabbing mercilessly, if futile, at the light.

“It seems to me that the desire to make art produces an ongoing experience of longing, a restlessness sometimes, but not inevitably, played out romantically, or sexually.” – Louise  Glück, Proofs & Theories, Essays on Poetry

I don’t know if it is this way for all poets, I know only that it is this way for me. That the sense of longing for my art is constant, it is sensual, and plays out not just in my mind but in my body as a romance, or a compulsion, I am not sure they are different things.

What I know in the pit of my stomach, at the center of anything inside me that could ever be considered holy, is that if there is to be life there has to be words.

There have to be words enough to bring about an end to the brutal, exquisite, relentless urge, or at least a temporary reprieve.

It is always temporary.

 

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Photo by Kirill Palii

Pretend It Doesn’t Hurt Us

The snow is coming down like a beautiful crystal mess. In each intricate icy bit of frozen lace, the rigid pixels of the year falling down on hard pavement.

Melting like a suicide. Like an attempt to disappear by smoothly changing form. The texture of resistance, slipping, slipping.

There is a softness in the sharp cut of the cold that cannot be explained because it stands still in the midst of the motion.

Peace at the center of the chaos, as if it had never ceased to exist.

It’s the gray dullness of a winter afternoon just around two o’clock which is the time of day I hate the most. It’s too late and too early to decide what to do because you are sick to death of the morning dragging itself on and your bones ache for the sensual cover of evening dark.

For the life of me I cannot understand why people hate the early darkness of winter. What are they even doing in the light that is so goddamn important?

I am standing in my back garden watching the tall naked trees cling to the blanketing white, all is quiet as the heartbeat underneath the stiffened fingers of my rib cage.

Stepping into the doorway under a tiny overhang, I light up a cigarette and take a sweet deep suck, my cheeks pulling in like carved hollows. I know I shouldn’t but I love the dirty taste. I crave the clench in my tender lungs like a pathetic ragged hug.

Smoke curls up into the white swirling around me as I imagine drifting away entirely, my body only a whisper on the wind which moves the highest branches against a pillowed sky.

Before we can know what we even had we are ready to lose it all for a lick of the desire for something so much more than this. For all the beauty, there is a sadness we cling to perhaps so that we don’t lose ourselves into the madness.

Pain as sanity. Pain as anchor. Pain as real.

But when I look out across a landscape flush with fallen leaves, fallen trees, broken fences crushed against broken dreams, I wonder.

Can’t we just cover it.

Bury it, let it freeze. Pretend like the past didn’t hurt us in places we refuse to see.

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Photo by Taya Iv

Which of Your Selves Will Tell Your Story?

My fingernails have grown out and I am quite pleased with the clicketty clack sounds they make whilst tapping and scratching all over the keyboard keys as I type.

Sharp lengthy nails aren’t always me but for now they feel like a much needed change from the cropped stubs I usually keep super short and chewed upon.

As the clock ticks on and I drain my coffee cup for the second time, I am thinking about the telling of stories and how a narrator – if she wants to be in the least bit compelling – must first choose the self from which she will speak.

To achieve intimacy, the depth of experience she wishes to convey, she must remain loyal to two critical elements throughout the telling of her story: who she is and why she is speaking.

It’s the who she is which can be entirely problematic, and yet also fully stimulating. In fact, it could be that if a writer cannot decide on who she must be in the telling of her particular story then she will not be able to tell the story at all.

With no self in which to anchor the narrative, the story will not hold together. Without that central pillar of cohesion, everything falls apart.

Knowing who you are, it would seem, is what gives you voice.

This is also the part of writing which compels me most of all to write. The siren call of the self I cannot be anywhere else except on the page. The self who runs barefoot through the depths of the forests of dreams.

The self who is nothing to anyone. Who owes nothing. Who has nothing to lose but worlds and worlds to create. Who is not married or employed or mothering or daughtering or tied in any way to the expectations of, or commitments to, others.

Part of the beauty of this kind of intimacy with the words is that you do not need to cover up or shy away from mixed emotions or complicated, messy, ugly, harsh, or difficult feelings.

Those paradoxes are exactly where you enter the scene, they are your way in.

Who is speaking, and why. This is the first decision. The choosing of the persona, the particular self you must be in relation to the story you wish to tell. The experience you wish to create within your reader.

And there, in that deep wide dark space, I am always and must always remain alone. In the silence of the mind, selections are made.

What to reveal, what not to reveal.

What to tell, what not to tell.

And I cannot help but wonder, is it the writing which intimidates the aspiring writer. Or is it that in order to write, one must make a choice, one story at a time, of who to be, how to see, how to approach and move about.

When there are so many selves from which to choose, how do you know which is the right one for the moment?

It’s a gamble. It’s a dare. An invitation. A chance. To be everything you dreamed you could be. To be bigger. Wilder.

Someone else entirely. Just for a bit, the self you are dying to be.

Clicketty clack, clicketty clack . . . 

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Photo by Ann Danilina

At the End of the Day of the Longing Year (audio)

It’s that time of year when the rain falls at dusk and you secretly hope it turns to snow, just so you can smell its moisture kissing the bare concrete.

Gray on gray skies to match the gray on gray drizzle and mist.

Bones in the midst.

The skeleton of the year passes through your finger tips.

Light a cigarette.

Lose the phone and your clothes and everything inside that forbids you.

Looking out across the tops of the empty trees which tower high and spindly above the naked, weary, wet blackened streets, I pour whiskey. It burns hot like the few spiced candles flickering in my windowsill, and I nestle into my thick buttery leather couch by the fire.

Cozy blankets, waning late afternoon light. It’s that time of year when the world and your insides and the mood of the space you occupy in your small self begins to dim.

Ever since I was a child I have found comfort in the low light. Something about it is worshipful to me, reverent, sweet with solemnity. Gentleness. I am touched with the idea of the undoing of harm.

My skin tingles with ache. All I haven’t done. All I have left to do. Crawling toward me and away.

Something in the way the dirty white cloud cover mutes all of the anxieties which too often seem to scream inside.

Something in the shadows which climb the walls like so many enchantments, widening chasms of welcoming deep.

This has been a year of such cruelty, frailty, tenderness. A year on its knees.

There is something about a kind of silence which hangs in the center of the room of the heart. The constant softness of the beat of the truth.

So soft as to be nearly imperceptible.

But, nevertheless, steady, constant, unending. Unpretentious. Demanding by not demanding, it knows nothing of loneliness.

Though you do. How you know, how you know. How you reach, and reach.

Comforting and unnerving in its immobile presence.

Because you see, no matter how loud they get out there, there is a voice without sound repeating in here.

In the place beyond the body, beyond the mind, beyond the spirit, beyond the love, beyond the fear.

I’m still here.

I’m still here.

I’m still here.

And the darkness swallows the corners of every room of every longing all over the globe.

Little listless stars pierce the galaxy somewhere beyond the clouds, like so many eyes, covered, glistening. A showering light falls past the tearful distance.

After billions and billions of the beg and yawn of quaking years.

Warmth. Light. Crystal cold vacancy.

Still here.

 

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Photo by Laura Chouette

If 2020 Taught Me Anything It’s This

Somehow the radical reality of this year seems to be setting in as we are pushed into the holidays. I have no problems staying home. Staying in. Staying isolated.

Both because I want nothing to do with spreading the deadly virus, and because I’m just really, heavily, fully, mightily tired.

Learning to hold righteous rage in the same palmed fist with genuine compassion has left me feeling raw, shredded, exposed, and inadequate in so very many ways.

Being unable to hug the ones I love the most in this world has left me feeling a loneliness I never knew I could feel. A longing stretches out within me, a reaching, a craving for the kind of up close and intimate touching I always loved but now realize I took for granted, too.

I am a big bear tight squeeze hugger. Hugging is my favorite. Not in a creepy way, mind you, in the kind of way where it is just a flood of gratitude to be with each other. A tiny fleeting ecstatic celebration. That we have each other. That we can hold on and hold fast and know we are not alone hurtling through empty space.

A lot of empty space this year. And plenty of chaos, fear, terror, and turmoil to fill it.

So I’m not going to fill my holidays with screens or Zooms or chaos. I can’t stomach it. I can’t be bothered to do or be a single thing or way other than what I am. Exhausted. Over it. Done.

There will be plenty of delicious food, and many bottles of wine. There will be a table glowing with candles and set elegantly with silverware and crystal for my two greatest loves in all the universe, my husband and my son.

There will be holiday jazz.

There will be pine boughs on the mantle.

There will be pajamas all day and an endless number of cut logs blazing in the fireplace.

Warm hearts and laughter and complete and total ignorance of the outside world.

I need my bubble now. I need to reconnect with the beauty of nature and the quiet thorough joy of reading for hours on end. Leftovers. Sleeping in. Twinkle lights.

The thing about 2020 has been the countless ways it has broken, stretched, and shattered my insides. The hard lessons. The breathtaking manner in which people and events, culture and society, have snapped me wide awake.

Hit me like a lightening bolt over and over and over again.

But the truth is you cannot stay awake forever. You will go insane.

So for now, rest.

For now, enough.

For now, peace in our tiny homes.

In our little trembling hearts.

 

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Photo by Joyce Huis