What I’m Made Of

all my life I’ve wondered what’s inside of me,
what I’m really made of

is it all hope-driven gears, creak-cranking,
squeaky with cynical grease?

or is it luminous rays of wonder and awe,
eyes, blinking and seeking love, pure and true?

is it all smoke, a fevered kiln of passing time,
age-dried straw, a mess of flaking atrophy?

or is it a not-so-flash flood, raging, rising,
the result of an aching, beating heart?

is it all waves of water and crackling fire,
opposing forces, one constantly quenching the other?

or do I simply burn for all that I am not,
for all I do not have?

-artwork by my daughter

Origami

as the weight incrementally increased,
she folded her desire in half,
then in half again,
and again,
until she could barely feel it at all,
tucking it into that hidden corner of her heart,
a minuscule origami equal in measure to her worth

Smile

they had all gathered to celebrate,
a room full of family from near and far,
her longing to see them equal in measure to the anxiety she felt in a crowded room,
one full of prickly expectation

she tried so hard to be the mirror others expected her to be,
but her smile was like a wound that had thickened as it healed,
nothing but rough, numb skin where nerve endings once existed

Focus

the earth rotates at a speed
of one thousand miles per hour,
while simultaneously orbiting the sun
at a speed of sixty-seven thousand miles per hour

sometimes I feel those two speeds,
acutely, in my body at once

when, beneath my feet,
the world feels spongy,
no longer solid and dependable,
but porous and deceptive

at the same time,
everything is slowly clicking into focus,
becoming crystal clear,
real, maybe for the first time

Time

I have been wake-walking in a worn-out tired that’s perpetually nauseous,
ravenous for something, but not hungry, exactly,
raw in a way that takes me by surprise and frustrates me;
the most trivial things are the last straw,
and there seem to be so many lasts

I have learned it’s not possible to wake up on the wrong side of the bed when you never really slept,
when there was no restful sleep,
just the tiny spaces between the cyclical blips of a never-ending SOS

and no matter what face I put on,
I am not greener on the other side,
I cannot find the sweet, restorative spot,
and too many days it feels like life is a zero sum game –
you only win until you lose again

I have been here before,
in a place that was a slow slide into conscious unconsciousness,
and the difference this time is that I know where I am,
I know who I am as I rest my head on the warm side of the pillow,
because I don’t have the energy to flip it,
and the flipping is never fast enough, anyway,
is it?

time isn’t on my side, which is funny,
because time is the only thing that matters,
isn’t it?

and I just keep asking myself:
what would be the point of living,
if we didn’t allow time to change us?
if we didn’t realize that time is the purest form of love on this earth?

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

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

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?

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