True Joy

there’d been happy times,
even blissful moments in her life,
but when she held her baby in her arms that first time,
she felt color blossom and rise through her,
up from somewhere inside she hadn’t known existed

she felt the soft heat of true joy

*Happy belated Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!

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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

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

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

Headlights

all around me, the world seems to move on,
people whirling in a constant spiral toward something else, and something else,
objects in motion drawing lines around my standing body

here I am, chronically nestled into the shadows,
a racing heart chasing the gleaming trail of lurid headlights that periodically cross the ceiling,
all the time wondering,
do you see what I see?

-sculpture by Kumi Yamashita

Earth and Alchemy

I think these walls are killing me

in the half-light of the drapery-filtered morning,
breathing is nearly unbearable;
the fan whirs with its white-noised voice,
failing in its attempt at swallowing the stagnancy,
managing only to distribute it in an oscillating,
luke-warm stream that, every few seconds,
blows directly into my face,
making my breath catch in a baby breath gasp,
the unsure gasp of not knowing from where the next will come

I think these walls are killing me

I sit, immobile, acutely aware of my mass,
of the blood begrudgingly pumping its percussive rhythm in my temples,
of the defective dampness emerging on my forehead,
of the ever-growing patches of petechiae-speckled skin,
evidence of an incurable itch that has risen up from the fate that is history-stitched to the soles of my flattened feet

I think these walls are killing me

I long for a singular, bottomless breath,
for the autonomous, unfiltered sunlight and its searing warmth upon my face,
for the forced closure of my eyes,
for the rays’ piercing, pinky-red glow on the backs of my tired eyelids,
and its tender, ruby kiss lingering on the pasty surface of my gossamer cheeks

I long for earth and alchemy

-image via Pixabay