Inside

there are inside jokes and references
words or gestures alluding
to some past shared experience
only the ones who were there
are meant to understand

they are a special kind of comradery
of understanding
a belonging to a unique, intimate collective

I think maybe I’m living an inside reality
one that is constant shadowed references
to a lonely past experience
only I seem to understand

it’s crazy –
I look around the room
and see familiar faces I almost know

they must remember
they were there, too

but, just like back then
they don’t want to acknowledge the shared experience
the inside of it all

they speak as if they know me
they make outside jokes
and talk about the past in a rose-colored highlight reel
leaving me on the inside, alone

they begin to come into uncomfortable focus

I realize –
I don’t envy that

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I Am From

I am from Vick and Mussdog, Angela and Michael,
where kindness is valued and everyone is equal.
From coffee breath to trucker burps,
and ear rubs to fire farts,
my family is close-knit.

I am from a distant neighborhood,
where dogs are barking and trees are flowing.
From floral-smelling streets to haunted houses,
and motorcycles roaring to flower petals flying,
my neighborhood is lively.

I am from a traveling family,
where the sounds and sights of nature are like gold.
From birds chirping to waves crashing,
and flowers blooming to gravel crunching,
my visits are breathtaking.

I am from a food loving family,
where we make many inherited recipes.
From the smell of sauce to the taste of meatballs,
and the family bonding to the crackling of grease,
my meals are mouthwatering.

I am from a fortunate home,
where I am happy and healthy.
From family to friends,
and traveling to meals,
my life is a blessing.

-A poem written by my 13 year old daughter and shared with her permission.

Pawns

her innocent bare shoulders
shorts shorter than her fingertips on her thighs
or her exposed midriff
are a distraction
offering too much satisfaction
to teenage boys who should be learning
and not gawking at girls
who ‘must be flirting’

why are you pointing out her bra straps sticking out
or her wearing simple spaghetti straps –
what’s that all about?

why is her faultless flesh
a distraction
to all the pimply boys
who can’t pay attention?

and god forbid if she chooses to not wear a bra
so her nipples (they shouldn’t be looking at) aren’t flattened
‘cuz then they can’t possibly be responsible for what happens

she’s made responsible
for their sexual thoughts and their gazes
for their school performances and grades and
their ignorance

and those horny boys can wear skinny pants
outlining their dicks
they can pick any muscle shirt
or shorts any length

they can sag so far you can see their boxers and Hanes
butt cracks and sticky stains

they can take off their shirts on any sport fields
exposing their nips
licking their pink lips
while young girls in short skirts
are cheering them on
on manicured lawns –
and no one catches on

that young girls are the pawns

they’re taught that their bodies
do not belong to them
that someone else governs it
and gets to say when

schools and officials
parents and politicians
all support girls being sexualized
picking and choosing what they want
and at what time

who’s really committing the crime?

Rising

all I hear is the beating of wings,
the murder’s grand explosion into the sky,
Mother Earth’s divine intuition raining from the shadowed tips of inky feathers, dispersing itself into the pink-red glow of daybreak,
illuminated phosphorous, igniting some kind of restlessness within me that’s been stirring,
a healing itch that’s nagging to be heard,
its melody begging to be sung at the top of my acquiescent lungs –
an ode to the outstretched, carefree soaring above,
to the whispering tops of the tallest of trees,
to the hope-filled breaking of every dawn,
to my voice,
to all that persistently rises

sing with me to the free-beating of wings,
let’s welcome the rising and all that it brings

-older poem, in honor of Earth Day

Lies

you tell yourself what you think you need to,
rationalizations, one after the next,
constructing and threading and weaving
in order to go on

you meticulously dig and bore and bury,
you force it down, down, down,
into the sinister pit, caging it away,
resigned to doing whatever it takes to keep it there,
fear and shame fueling the defiance

and you mercilessly protect it,
clutching the lies like a shield,
believing the pain will be lesser and the humiliation slighter,
if only no one can see it

except it only grows and metastasizes,
the loathe a burning itch,
the fear always there,
just beneath the surface of your skin,
the shame a purpling, omniscient bruise,
an ache invading,
taking up more and more space,
taking over

there it is –
in your eyes that say what your mouth does not,
in the slight recoil at a simple touch,
in the humiliating burn behind your eyes that threatens to spill in revealing droplets,
in the distance you keep,
no matter how close you get

there it is,
in the silence,
a clamoring so loud,
it won’t ever allow you rest

it never stays down –
I know,
I’ve told myself the same lies

-older poem revised

Obsession

once upon a time,
I’d have told you my obsession is with impression,
but the truth is –
I’m obsessed with conquering,
with engineered attention,
with admiration

with myself

and you –
you are my latest project,
my conduit,
my fiddle

I’ll play you religiously,
fine tuning until I’m playing you against yourself,
plucking and plucking until I find the perfect note,
and I won’t let up until you’re a refrain without a chorus

I know –
it’s dangerous to think you know too much about a person,
because who really knows someone else?

it seems like you only scratch the surface,
never getting to the meat of someone else,
into their bones

but I don’t think that’s true,
because you can tirelessly nibble and bite and burrow,
until you’re living just beneath the surface of their skin,
a nagging itch they can’t help but scratch,
their internal compass bending and twisting,
until it is pointing directly toward you

all you need to know is what they fear most

Stories

I have stories I only tell my friends.
Well, stories I’d only tell my friends, if I had any.
I often compose entire conversations in my mind: dramatic pauses, emphatic inflections, animated exclamations, even slow, sheepish whispers during the most difficult parts.
I feel my face move in tandem with the words, my heart race with every tumbling emotion.
I feel your compassionate hand reach for mine.
I feel your face light up with glee, your chest ignite with laughter.
I imagine how you’d feel being trusted with my stories.
I imagine how I’d feel trusting you with them.
Sometimes I tell them out loud to the empty room, wishing you were here to listen, whoever you are.
I have stories I only tell my friends.
Well, stories I’d only tell my friends, if I had any.

Believe

“Do you believe?,” you ask,
when you find out I no longer go to church

there’s no short answer to that –
I only know I didn’t find what I was looking for inside those earthen walls

but out here in the wilderness,
I found

I found paradise in a little taupe house on a corner,
felt the radiating warmth of its promise snuggled beneath homemade quilts made of old khaki pants,
saw it in the orange speckles of hope in eyes that made real things for which I’d only ever hoped

I found holy land in an a wacky sense of humor and two mismatched legs,
in arms which never let go,
no matter how hard I pushed

we built our own sanctuary,
worshipping our own way,
turning needless guilt and regret into fire between gray cottony sheets and sacrificing ourselves to one another

I found belonging in two sets of tiny eyes looking up at us,
looking to us,
in bouncy blond curls and baby teeth and skinned knees that needed kisses

I found community in silent waves and borrowed eggs and butter,
in anonymously snow blown driveways and last minute cook outs,
carrying Tupperware from house to house

I found connectedness in making eye contact and in genuine smiles,
in doors being held and bags being carried,
in the gifting of time,
but receiving much more in return

out here,
I found something so pure and true,
it can’t possibly be measured by the counting of beads or the contents of envelopes

so you don’t need to ask me if I believe in something bigger than myself,
of course I do

heaven is everywhere I look

-revision of an older poem

Imposter

this shaky pencil scratches and claws at the persuasive paper,
a brittle, broken bird wing lifting and slapping itself against the emptiness,
line after desperately vacant line staring back, mockingly,
and I am stranded,
stuck at the end of the poor man’s queue

this lizard brain is powerless as it goes through the habitual motion of attempting to regurgitate something,
to manufacture anything,
for god’s sake

something like words make it to the page in jagged slices of shale,
crumbling at the weight of every second glance,
until finally peeling back their imposter costumes,
only to reveal soot covered vacant lines

what can I expect when,
instead of lead,
it’s only dust?

-image via Pixabay

Resonant

I hate catching sight of myself without warning; I don’t recognize myself sometimes.
I think I know what I look like, a wishful, postage stamp echo of myself rooted in my mind’s eye, but am taken by surprise by the stranger looking back at me.
Reluctantly, I study the surprised stranger’s face, her curly, salt and pepper hair twisted onto the top of her head into a lazy bun, her naked, splotchy skin, the lines creeping toward her eyes like cracks in pavement.
“You look like shit,” I tell her.
The movement of her mouth mesmerizes me, it’s autocratic timbre resonant as it travels the gap between what is and what is not.
I make her speak some more.
“Fuck off,” she says, in my voice.
I smile at her and she smiles back.

-image via Pexels