Liquid

for many, the sun’s rising is a new start,
a spark of freshness and hope,
of some new unknown,
of possibility

but the sharp rays peeking through the black curtains were anything but;
they were sinister tentacles gripping and pulling her into the known,
which she fiercely wished was not

her blurry eyes were smeared with yesterday’s camo,
her mouth filled with sticky secrets she had tried so hard to swallow but never digest,
and this morning was just another in an endless slice of time that never seemed to pass

so she reached to the bedside table,
desperate, not for the glass of water,
but for the two small pills that would begin her swift transformation from a solid,
something rigid, too tight,
to liquid, not flowing and fluid,
but a stagnant pool of nothingness,
however fleeting it may be

Broken

everything he could know about her
could be found in the things she didn’t talk about,
and she hadn’t been talking about much of anything for quite a while

but it was time;
it had become a sludge so thick it filled her lungs,
a slow hardening that made it difficult to breathe

so she gritted her eyes and tucked the shame into her cheek so she could talk around it,
and she told him –
she was failing

the dignified satisfaction at what had, at first,
felt like a victory,
had slowly and methodically curdled,
and now it was rotten,
all of it

what was once her most admired characteristic –
her callous resolve,
her stern determination to succeed despite the turmoil,
her pulling herself up at the bootstraps, again,
was not enough

and no matter how she tried to feel proud of her decision to give in,
to let allow herself to fail if it was meant to happen,
she felt no victory in it

even in the beautiful slaying of her ego,
she felt no triumph in being reminded she was broken

Blister

some days, I can’t feel much at all,
but I can smell my own grief,
overwhelming, distant,
like the first hint of smoke hitching in the wind,
a foreshadowing of something larger,
gaining momentum

but there is always too much to do,
and never enough time,
so I snuff it out,
pinch the red hot phosphorus of it between my tired fingers,
leaving behind only scorched, raw skin

it’s fine,
it’s fine

I keep repeating it to myself,
but as I go about the day,
one mountainous thing to the next,
I keep catching a whiff of it,
and I can’t help pressing the blistering it leaves behind,
both comforting and chilling

and I wish I could just take a needle to it,
relieve some of the pressure,
but I can’t –
I can’t say I miss her,
I’m not ready yet

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

Fifth of July

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

BOOM.

The phone rang, and as the foreign voice on the on the other end began its sorrowful explanation, there was no air, only a sinking, limb-tingling fear disguised as anger. Questions ejected themselves from back of my throat in a stream, but I cannot recall 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 originate from somewhere 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.

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

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.