Inside Out

Who is she?
With her confident poise, her expensive shoes, her perfectly lined eyes.
With her favored life I might like know.

My feet deceive me, bringing me closer.
My hands are damp accessories with nowhere to reside.
I fumble with inferior sounding words, smile for no reason at all.
The sentences I piece together spill from an unknown void somewhere between my heart and my mouth.
It’s both automatic and painfully forced.

Time suspends itself.
Spiral thoughts creep and invade like black ants seething over the body of a dead songbird.
I’m an odd specimen floating in formaldehyde.

I can’t do this.
The ache to fit here feels like constantly bumping into the hard shell of myself, like slowly dissolving my softest parts.

But being myself feels inside out.

Exuviae

I am the word shatter,
spidering cracks creeping to the edges,
a fragile soul covered in brittle bone and tender flesh,
as if one wrong move and I might become something else entirely

my arms twist and stretch toward something,
someone,
and just when I feel the promise of weight upon my upturned palms,
it all slips away like a ghost at daybreak,
and I am left here exposed,
alone

someone once told me the world shines shit and calls it gold, and they were right;
it makes you believe there’s another kind of life,
one that’s not so dangerous, fleshy,
full of absence so painful it takes your breath away and leaves you hollow, an exuviae,
a shadow of your almost self

I am the noise a glass makes when you run a finger along the rim,
the one that causes piercing pain,
the one that some can’t hear,
yet, I’m here

you can live your whole life dancing with the idea of mortality,
knowing that one day will be the last day,
and still never really know what that means

what does it all mean?

what happens if I am no longer this woman,
waiting to be loved in the way I let define me?

~Painting is Molting by Ben M. Arthur

Paper Moon

we wake to an odd familiarity,
more said these days than not,
single cup coffees brewing in succession as the morning begins its foreshadowed burn,
the dew’s moist breath hanging the tall oaks with fog,
and the air standing nearly still except for the slow flap of the robins’ wings lifting from the treetops

Ma sits at the old kitchen table,
sipping her coffee while leaning forward in her everyday chair,
telling stories as the sun rises,
some of them her favorites, echoes I’ve heard so many times before,
while others are surprises, custom cut-outs of time that needed somewhere to go,
so I listen, absorbing them through my skin,
nodding all the while

in the afternoon, I busy myself as she rests,
tidying and organizing and cleaning,
doing the shopping and the cooking,
all the things I hope will help ease the day-to-day business of living

at nightfall, we sit in lawn chairs on the back porch watching the squirrels scurry by,
a paper moon appearing faceless in the still cloudless sky,
stretches of blade grass sliced wide open by chain link and asphalt,
the air adorned with a constant, treaded hum,
as the trees lining the property bend to wear the shape of the welcomed wind

we talk about tomorrows and what-ifs or something funny one of the kids did recently,
but some of the time, we just sit

during the quiet times, I can no longer help but notice she seems so tired of arguing with the elements,
not quite fading into the backdrop, but slowly sinking, leaving in her wake small, concentric circles where the whole used to be

it is then that I realize the loneliness of a lifetime of parenting;
a future unknowable to a parent and a past unknowable to a child,
a reluctant knowing that time ticks by with a quickening urgency and you never want to let go

and in the pinky-red glow of the setting of the sun, I know:
soon, I’ll have to say goodbye

Not Ready

I’m not ready.

Hell, I don’t even know how to feel yet.
I vibrate from feeling to feeling so quickly,
gliding from one to the next, never really touching down.
I smile or laugh, but the remembrance swipes it off my face.
She whispers in my ear that she doesn’t want the smiles to be stolen away, but I love her.

I knew it was coming.
But, I’m not prepared to watch her suffer.
I’m not ready to let her go.

Triage

I hear the constant prattling of the voice, but I cannot hear my own thoughts.
When you speak, I watch your lips move, grasp their graceful forming of the words.
I watch your eyes speak louder than your voice, notice your face animate with conviction.
I read as I listen.
The voice incessantly clacks its triage like keys on an old typewriter, always placing feeling before logic.
Your feelings before mine.
I have done that for so long, I can hear your thoughts, even when your lips do not move.
In the mirror, I try like hell to read my own lips, but the keys are eerily silent.

Home

There’s a poem in this place,
in the not-quite-silence of the early morning,
in the constant companionship of the ticking of the clock,
and in the furry paw falls across the laminate floor.
It is here where a woman writes a lyric she no longer whispers to say.

There’s a poem in this place,
in its second-hand, blue collar grace,
in its well-worn wooden things and well kept lawn,
and in the backyard garden boxes engineered by her youngest daughter.
It is here where she has planted roots.

There’s a poem in this city,
in these tree-lined, bicycle-ridden streets,
in the laughter that makes its way through the open windows, lighter than the air,
and in the warmth in the smile from the elderly woman across the street.
It is here where her heart became full.

There’s a poem in his eyes, always,
in the way she says his name,
in the history they hold between their hands,
and in the future for which they know only one certainty: together.
It is here where she knows home.

Glass Bottles

you hug her with flippant arms,
kiss her with lips pursed with words lying in wait,
listen with ears that scramble her station unrecognizable;
it may as well be static

and she looks at you with knowing eyes,
her lungs crackling with the laughter of too many ghosts,
your name a promise beaconed by her light and slipped into the glass bottle that is her heart,
knowing there’s a chance it might break

she knows,
even though she wishes she did not;
you love her with a squeaky, newborn heart,
with words that are too large to fit through the close-knit threading of your ego,
protecting a past that fear keeps you from seeing through a microscopic lens,
so the words bury themselves in infertile soil,
never to bloom

maybe she could sacrifice,
maybe she could stay;
you ask her to,
you say you’ll change

she thinks-
maybe I could give up parts of myself for him,
maybe I could go without,
maybe he will really change

but who would she be if she lived her life fishing empty glass bottles from a perpetually low tide?

Before

life was Dorothy Hamill haircuts and bright white roller skates with colorful wheels,
dimples and batted eyelashes and 25c ginger ale in returnable bottles

before it became grocery store boxes of hair color and the embarrassment of paper food stamps,
30 pounds of extra weight and fingernails bit to the quick and too many crushed cans of Milwaukee’s Best Lite littering the shitty apartment

life was bruises no one could see and tear-soaked pillow cases,
reduced priced school lunches and ketchup sandwiches at home and too many unasked questions by too many people who were supposed to be doing the asking

before it became her own hands swinging and her mouth repeating and too many more tears on another generation of pillow cases,
expired milk and bare cupboards and needle tracks up arms that have hugged all the wrong people

Inertia

the rains come again,
tap-tapping at the window panes,
a symphony out-of-sync,
not unlike the fearful beating of her own heart

a familiar, creeping terror rises from a place beyond thoughts,
some innermost trap door flying open,
her instinct to leap upon and lean against it with all her might,
to padlock it shut,
but that energy has long ago evaporated

so she murmurs in a rhythm,
uttering age-old phrases that spin-cycle in her mind,
an attempt at talking herself off an unrevealed ledge,
fear pumping off her in virulent, toxic fumes

she isn’t herself,
hasn’t been for a long while;
her very smell like that of imminent winter,
brittle and airless with the heavy inertia of time

why has no one noticed?

Dry Land

I leak from a private, hidden faucet inside,
emotions continuously stroking the fiery thoughts I wish I didn’t have,
the ones I fight like hell to change

head barely above water, I tread,
arms flailing and feet pressing against, against,
against

in the vastness,
I sink down into my body as into a swamp,
where only I know the footing

it’s treacherous ground,
my own territory

as I search for dry land, I know –
I must become the sturdy earth I press my own ear against,
listening for rumors of the future