Fifth of July

Bang, pop, whoosh. Sizzle, snap, crack. Fizz, hiss, BOOM. BOOM.

BOOM.

The phone rang, and as the foreign voice explained on the other end, there was no air, only the sinking, limb-tingling fear disguised as anger. Questions ejected themselves from between my lips in a stream, but I don’t remember any of them.

I rushed to be by his side, tunnel vision guiding me there. I couldn’t think, see, feel anything else. Nothing else registered, none of my surroundings, nothing at all. All I thought was – I need to hurry. I need to hurry. I need to hurry.

After the doctor delivered the news in person, I stood there, stunned. In my peripheral, I could see the glow of colors exploding in the sky just outside the large window next to his bed, and it registered that it was the 4th. The rumbling vibration of each detonation seemed to be coming from inside me.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Once I arrived home, though I desperately needed the sleep, there was very little. I tossed and turned, and tossed and turned. Finally giving in to it, I got up early, dressed and returned to him.

As I walked down the stark, institutional green hall, each step brought me closer to seeing with my own eyes what had been conveyed in words the day before, the weight of those words sinking like quicksand to the pit of my stomach.

I was acutely aware of the clinical smell surrounding me, the smell of sickness, the stench of sadness filling first my lungs, then permeating outward, finding an unwelcome home in my veins, thick like sludge, coursing and thumping.

I could hear the cries of sorrow in the bated breath wafting from some of the doors I passed. I could taste its metallic tang on the tip of my tongue. And as I arrived at the doorway of the room to which I needed to enter, I felt it in my bones, in my marrow. When I opened the door, I became its embodiment.

The few steps to the bed took me years:

I passed myself snuggled on his lap as he read to me for the millionth time, Put Me in the Zoo.

I watched as I sat between he and my mother on the yellow paisley couch, as they tried to explain why we would no longer be a family.

I saw the desperation on his face as he finally allowed me to call my mother, but would not yet let me go home to her, still.

I remembered tearing open the Christmas wrap to see the purple down coat I’d wanted so badly, the yolk-only egg sandwiches on Sunday mornings, and stove-popped popcorn with a rented movie on our every-other Saturday nights.

I saw his suntanned, orange-tinted left arm that was darker than the rest of him from hanging out his truck window, his splashing in the pool and volleyball in the summer, and helping my step-brother with homework at the kitchen table while he looked on drinking Pepsi from a two liter bottle.

I remembered the wishing I belonged, that I fit with them differently, more.

The coughing, I remembered the coughing that just kept getting worse, the constant handkerchiefs in his pockets and on the end table with his Winstons next to his chair, the red-faced breathlessness and the wheezing. And the fear in his eyes.

I remembered the devastating, life-altering heartbreak and the disappearing and the wondering, the worry and the doubt. The reconnecting and the doctors and the testing.

And finally, the hope. The hope which had fizzled away the night before with every sizzle and crack, hiss and bang and pop.

Standing next to the impersonal-feeling bed, I gripped the cold, stark metal of the railing with both hands, trying to take in all that I saw. The blinking and the beeping in the semi-darkness, the machine whose trepidus noise filled the room.

Suck, push, suck, push. SUCK. PUSH.

Eerily loud and unwelcome, it was reminiscent of the sounds heard outside the window the night before.

My eyes ran the length of the shiny metal pole on which the machine was mounted, down to the swiveling wheels which allowed it to be maneuvered to where it was needed. I noticed the simple black cord which extended to the wall.

How could such an ordinary-looking plug hold life in the balance?

Letting loose my grip a bit, I became deftly aware of my own breath, in and out, of my own heart beating, ga-gong, ga-gong, so loudly in my chest that it rang in my ears. Reaching out, I rested my hand on his chest, feeling the unfamiliar, robotic rise and fall. I felt the cool absence, the force of what would not be. And then I looked up, nodded my head, and closing my water-filled eyes, I felt with the lengths of my fingers, with the lifeline in the palm of my hand. With my very soul.

The robotic gave way to an arhythmic slowing:

Rise..fall….rise…..fall…….rise……..fall.

Fall.

Beneath my palm there was only stillness. In the tips of my fingers, there was only the thump of my own heartbeat, the trembling cry of my core.

BOOM.

And he was gone.

Metaphors

over nearly half a century,
time had worn her threadbare,
a tapestry of thinning, loosened threads,
mindlessly and obsessively pulled

as was necessary, sometimes her suffering was sad enough to silence the songbirds,
and other times, her joy was a melody others couldn’t help but to join

by now, she is a well-worn weather map of shared existence,
a lightening scorched scattering of scars,
a thunderous rattle of broken bones,
some not quite set right

but the seasons continue to change,
and she still manages to make leaves from nothing,
stretching her tired limbs toward the sky and offering herself bare to the thickening light

how is it, she wonders,
that I’ve become a minstrel of metaphor?
she hates metaphors

does shade have a shadow?
what else do we allow time to hide in plain sight?
why can’t something just be what it is?

if time has shown her anything,
it’s that she doesn’t need to ‘find her voice’,
she’s been forever truth-talking to herself,
and maybe, once upon a time,
she needed you to listen

now, she’s content in the simplicity of the knowing

Seasons

Freeze from sapphire heavens creates white earth,
melting to steady rain, sparking rebirth.
Soon, sun burns a fierce smolder,
long days turn to nights colder,
as colors fall, fading, crackling last mirth.

*An older limerick resurrected in celebration of the start of my summer!

Fragile

she framed in a charcoal outline
the smoke and mirror eyes
that either drew people in
or shuttered them out

everything is so definite

she imagines herself as a bird,
perched and spinning,
observing,
perhaps something soulful like Keat’s nightingale,
or maybe something darker,
less likely to fade into the background,
like a scribbled crow from Van Gogh’s wheat field

everything is so definite

how much time had passed
standing in one place,
she wondered

I wish the wheel could spin backward –
I wish I deserved his forgiveness
I wish he could love me again

it became obvious –
the ones who were drawn in
were like moth to flame
and always perished in her fire

everything is so fragile

Ashes


my hands smell like cigars
and the cigar box smells like you
your fake Rolex has some tarnish
it’s charred hands no longer move
my lungs are full of tar
and white smoke fills the room

my hands smell like cigars
and the cigar box smells like you
your silver zippo lost its polish
as your fingers searched for truth
the photos all wear fake smiles
and the eyes are empty rooms

my hands smell like cigars
and the cigar box smells like you
my letter sits in folds
words unspoken split in two
my lungs are full of tar
and white smoke fills the room 

you slipped through my fingers
like the smoke that filled the room
my hands smell like cigars
and the cigar box smells like you
these memories are ashes 
and this cigar box is a tomb

-image via Pinterest

In the Dark

the chronic crackling catches
on the lumps in my throat
with each inhale

every forced expiration
is a labored, hollow whistling
keeping me awake

tiny punctures in the fragile lining
widen with every blink,
becoming jagged fissures

until I gasp and grasp
and try desperately to grab onto anything
that will help me patch the holes

so I close my eyes
and line these bankrupt lungs
with your whispered I love you’s
in the dark

-image via Pinterest, art by Codex Anotomicus

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

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?