The Forest

I’m lost in a forest of the tallest trees,
inundated with wickedly bent, sinister trunks,
thicket so dense my feet can barely move,
the air damp and heavy,
sitting like rocks in my lungs.

Swiping and slashing,
I claw at the overgrowth’s sharpness, aching to lift my legs and run, grasping for vines that might save me.

Yet, I don’t want to be saved.
I crave absolution.

On tattered, tired, and bended knees,
I offer you a ridged branch,
begging for penance,
desperate for something rigid to hold onto,
yearning for you to envelope me in the shelter of your palm.

Help me be my vine.

And then I wonder,
how heavy is that staff?
Is the weight just too much?

But you answer,
you deliver.

You take and give,
give and take.

With each give and take,
a little of you infiltrates me,
suffocating the darkness,
penetrating every fiber of muscle,
saturating each porous bone,
filling and filling,
until you seep up through every
follicle and pore,
spilling out and bending to my every contour,
forming a shield upon my flesh that no thorn can puncture.

With you, I can weave my own vine,
with threads of you in the center,
your strength attached to mine in its impenetrable core.

Together we can conquer –
we can see the forest for the trees.

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Enough

we were skin to skin,
our heat a ravenous, tangible entity between us,
and I could feel myself thawing beneath it,
softening around the edges,
like the petals of a freshly-emerged flower ready for bloom

we spent hours exploring one another,
all night,
night after endless night

all I remember is white everywhere:
the white glow of moonlight creeping around the edges of the curtains,
the white-hot need bursting behind my eyelids,
the whites of his eyes staring so deeply into me,
his teeth beaming from between his lips in a grin, a growl, a pleasure-pain grimace,
his pale white skin against the soft gray sheets

I’d never known skin could be so luminous and translucent,
a network of purply-blue veins visible just beneath the surface,
like threads of color in white marble,
threads that connected us so completely,
I couldnt tell where he ended and I began

through flesh and unmetered time,
I absorbed his calm,
his vulnerability,
his joy

I said yes to things I previously would not have;
I reveled in this new person I became,
this less afraid person,
this free person he inspired me to be

we fucked all the time;
I was consumed with lust,
perpetually, urgently hungry for him,
for this coupled metamorphosis

l needed to touch him,
meld with him,
know him,
to shed all the layers of contrived bullshit –
for him to know me

I couldn’t get enough

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

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

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

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

Were Not Some Part of Her

there was once a hole in her heart where no love would grow,
a void not desolate, no,
it was an urban uproar,
expectations as tall and as sharp as city skyscrapers,
all angles and edges,
streets littered with elbows and crowded corners,
she a pedestrian on an endless,
one-way route of regret,
her yearning a suffocating smog,
a desperate redness swelling in her tired chest,
droplets of shameful acid rain
eroding roads,
rationalizations the pits and falls on the map to nowhere

were not some part of her made of steel and concrete,
her soul would have suffocated,
her lungs would have exploded against the weight

were not some part of her a cartographer,
bravely charting the void,
the child inside would never have ventured forth to find nourishment

were not some part of her a gardner,
feeding the green amongst the steel and concrete,
her heart would not now know such sustenance

were not some part of her an architect,
unafraid to draft and erase,
hope would have died long, long ago,
and her heart would not now be whole

-image via Pexels; older poem slightly revised