Dear friends and readers of Read A Little Poetry:(more…)
The way I said there’d be something new by July, by August, because I’m finally putting my life back together. The way this place remains the same. The ghost of my old self remains, wafting from word to word, from line to line, showing me what I planned to do. The way I’m here to say I haven’t been able to.
The way I carefully plotted my calendar, anticipating growth. The way I ended up pushing myself to get out of bed just to keep going. Today and another day more. And another day more. The way I’m struggling.
The way I told the universe the future will involve good things. The way I tried to manifest food on the table. Hot showers. A body that doesn’t ache. A mind that doesn’t break. The way I am hungry. Again and again. It fucking makes me angry, you know. How I am hungry.
The way I promised to get lab tests finally. Treatment plans to fix what can be fixed. The way I promised to fix my home, make it a space that would encourage me to work and live and breathe and be a person. The way I’m not doing any of that at all.
Be gentle with yourself, I am told. Everyday I fail. Spectacularly.
I’m going to fail again. That’s for certain. But the wild thing inside me believes it’s still worth a try. That is to say: damn it all. That is to say: I’ve got this. That is to say: another day more. And another day more.
I am going to fail.
I’m going to fail cartilage and plastic, camera and arrow.
I’m going to fail binoculars and conjugations,
all the accompanying musics: I am failing,
I must fail, I can fail, I have failed
the way some women throw themselves
into lover’s arms or out trains,
fingers crossed and skirts billowing
behind them. I’m going to fail
the way strawberry plants fail,
have dug down hard to fail, shooting
brown runners out into silt, into dry gray beds,
into tissue and rock. I’m going to fail
the way their several hundred hearts below surface
have failed, thick, soft stumps desiccating
to tumors; the way roots wizen in the cold
and cloud black, knotty as spark plugs, cystic
synapses. I’m going to fail light and stars and tears.
I’m going to fail the way cowards only wish they could fail,
the way the brave refuse to fail or the vain fear to,
believing that to stray even once from perfection
is to be permanently cast out, Wandering Jew
of failure, Adam of failure, Sita of failure; that’s the way
I’m going to fail, bud and creosote and cloud.
I’m failing pet and parent. I’m failing the food
in strangers’ stomachs, the slender inchoate rings
of distant planets. I’m going to fail these words
and the next and the next. I’m going to fail them,
I’m going to fail her– trust me, I’ve already failed him–
and the possibility of a we is going to sink me
like a bad boat. I’m going to fail the way
this strawberry plant has failed, alive without bud,
without fruit, without tenderness, hugging itself
to privation and ridiculous want.
I’m going to fail simply by standing in front of you,
waving my arms in your face as if hailing a taxi:
I’m here, I’m here, please don’t forget me,
though you already have, I smell it, even cloaked
with soil, sending out my slender fingers for you,
sending out all my hair and tongue and brain.
I’m going to fail you
just as you’re going to fail me,
urging yourself further down to sediment
and the tiny, trickling filaments of damp;
thirsty, thirsty, desperate to drown
if even for a little while, if even for once:
to succumb, to be destroyed,
to die completely, to fail the way I’ve failed
in every particular sense of myself,
in every new and beautiful light.
This is from The Invention of the Kaleidoscope by Paisley Rekdal, published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007.
I am staring at Andrew Wyeth’s Wind from the Sea. I am found there, on the soft wisp of the curtain. I am on the lace where the wind blows through. I am there in the thick of trees. I am on the ledge of the window. I am in the water. I am the small embroidered bird. I am trying to tell you what yearning is. I am failing.
Perhaps you’re meant for elsewhere, K. wrote me, so many years ago. Maybe you have to leave so you can come back.
Please accept my tenderness, and by that I mean, these poems. And by that I mean, this soft space that has allowed us to exist.
What I am saying is even the sea returns. And some days, the mist.
I Am Not Ready To Die Yet
after Joy Harjo
I am not ready to die yet: magnolia tree
going wild outside my kitchen window
& the dog needs a house, &, by the way,
I just met you, my sisters & I
have things to do, & I need
to talk on the phone with my brother. Plant a tree.
& all the things I said I’d get better at.
In other words, I am not ready to die yet
because didn’t we say we’d have a picnic
the first hot day, I mean,
the first really, really hot day?
Taqueria. & swim, kin,
& mussel & friend, don’t you go, go, no.
Today we saw the dead bird, & stopped for it.
& the airplanes glided above us. & the wind
lifted the dead bird’s feathers.
I am not ready to die yet.
I want to live longer knowing that wind
still moves a dead bird’s feathers.
Wind doesn’t move over & say That thing
can’t fly. Don’t go there. It’s dead.
No, it just blows & blows lifting
what it can. I am not ready
to die yet. No.
I want to live longer.
I want to love you longer, say it again,
I want to love you longer
& sing that song
again. & get pummeled by the sea
& come up breathing & hot sun
& those walks & those kids
& hard laugh, clap your hands.
I am not ready to die yet.
Give me more dreams. To taste the fig.
To hear the coyote, closer.
I am not ready to die yet.
But when I go, I’ll go knowing
there will be a next time. I want
to be like the cactus fields
I drove through in Arizona.
If I am a cactus, be the cactus
I grow next to, arms up,
every day, let me face you,
every day of my cactus life.
& when I go or you go,
let me see you again somewhere,
or you see me.
Isn’t that you, old friend, my love?
you might say, while swimming in some ocean
to the small fish at your ankle.
Or, Weren’t you my sister once?
I might say to the sad, brown dog who follows me down
the street. Or to the small boy
or old woman or horse eye
or to the tree. I know I knew I know you, too.
I’m saying, could this be what makes me stop
in front of that dogwood, train whistle, those curtains
blowing in that window. See now,
there go some eyes you knew once
riding the legs of another animal,
wearing its blue sky, magnolia,
wearing its bear or fine
or wolf-wolf suit, see,
somewhere in the night a mouth is singing
You remind me You remind me
& the heart flips over in the dusky sea of its chest
like a fish signaling Yes, yes it was me!
& yes, it was, & you were there, & are here now,
yes, honey, yes hive, yes I will, Jack,
see you again, even if it’s a lie, don’t
let me know, not yet, not ever, I need to think
I’ll see you, oh,
This is from Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay, published by BOA Editions, 2011.
Say it, he whispers. Say you’re beautiful. I hesitate, the seconds stretching, feeling I’m losing ground. Any moment now I will fall and I will keep falling, until the abyss swallows me into nothingness.
I don’t think you know how difficult it is, whoever you may be. Or maybe you do. Maybe that’s why you’re here, have been here, with me, for years.
He just sits there and waits and waits and waits. I tremble, across universes, across lives, past and future. Have you ever known such agony, and what it takes to allow yourself this one moment to unfold.
I say the words. I expected to disintegrate. Dear reader, I’m still here. I’m beautiful. It’s strange to say it. But it’s okay. I am learning my words, the way one does after losing them to grief and pain and trauma and anger and loss. I am finding my language once more, once again.
Oh, the utter insistence of living. I exist. I persist.
There Comes the Strangest Moment
There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free—
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.
Skin’s gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.
I want—my want. I love—my love. I’ll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what’s here to never go away.
I’ll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…
Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.
How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.
This is from Open Slowly by Kate Light, published by Zoo Press, 2003.
Don’t let them have you for the rest of your life, he says. It’ll consume you, trying to fix something that doesn’t want to be fixed. I stare out the window. I know he’s right.
What I know is that I’m often dusting myself off, picking myself up. What I know is that my life is in the weaving, in the patching up. Thread upon thread. Even when the needle breaks, thread upon thread.
What I know is that I’m always beginning. Some part of me thinks it is a weakness.
Oh dear self, what if it’s resistance.
How to Begin
Catherine Abbey Hodges
Wipe the crumbs off the counter.
Find the foxtail in the ear of the old cat.
Work it free. Step into your ribcage.
Feel the draft of your heart’s doors
as they open and close. Hidden latches
cool in your hand.
Hear your marrow keep silence,
your blood sing. Finch-talk
in the bush outside the window.
You’re a small feather, winged seed, wisp
of cotton. Thread yourself
through a hole in the button on the sill.
You’re a strand of dark thread
stitching a word to a river. Then another.
This is from Instead of Sadness by Catherine Abbey Hodges, published by Gunpowder Press, 2015.
Has it ever happened to you, on some random morning, while you’re making coffee, or sweeping the floor, or folding your clothes—you suddenly think about what you did so many years ago? My goodness, you think. How could I have said that. Did that. Gone through that.
And then you turn your head to glance at something, and you forget again, you’re here now in the present dialing your sister talking about lunch, you’re opening your fridge to see if there’s still a chocolate bar for dessert. You go back to your desk to work, and then the days pass, weeks, months, and it’s your life, the one you keep, isn’t it.
When my dog was still alive, she does this thing when you call her name. She tilts her head sideways, tongue lolling out, as if listening, as if it’s the first time she’s heard being called, as if she’s surprised she has a name. Then she runs towards me, and it’s my turn to chuckle in delight, half bewildered and half astonished that I am a recipient of such boundless love. As if somewhere in the universe someone has decided, yes. Yes.
Here’s something very few people know about me: I was named so because someone thought I was part of a star.
Many years ago I started with a poem, not knowing where to go. Look now, around this place. Look at years of my life, the one I’ve known, and the one you’ve witnessed. Perhaps this is amazement.
All this time,
the life you were
supposed to live
has been rising around you
like the walls of a house
designed with warm
As if you had actually
planned it that way.
As if you had
stacked up bricks
and built by mistake
a lucky star.
This is from Northern Oracle by Kirsten Dierking, published by Spout Press, 2007.
There are letters to write. Some to you. Some to myself. And there are poems, oh page after page after page of them. Sometimes I wish I can show you.
Sometimes I wish I can take you. When I’m writing, I mean. But then we have this place, don’t we? Some pages a reckoning. Some pages a homecoming. But always, always a journey.
Yes, there’ll still be heavy stones scattered about my life. Some days I might even put them in my pocket. But I’m hoping I’ll kick them out of the way, watch them roll off the path, go about my day, eventually forget. I’m crossing my fingers.
I’ve left myself a thousand times before. I’m so concerned about being I haven’t thought about becoming.
If you are on an odyssey, I bid you good luck and a good sandwich. Carry poems in your pocket. If you are at a crossing, go where you feel there’ll be a kindness. Follow your nose. The answer is yes.
Instructions for the Journey
The self you leave behind
is only a skin you have outgrown.
Don’t grieve for it.
Look to the wet, raw, unfinished
self, the one you are becoming.
The world, too, sheds its skin:
politicians, cataclysms, ordinary days.
It’s easy to lose this tenderly
unfolding moment. Look for it
as if it were the first green blade
after a long winter. Listen for it
as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.
And if all that fails,
wash your own dishes.
Stand in your kitchen at your sink.
Let cold water run between your fingers.
This is from Olive Street Transfer by Pat Schneider, published by Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 1999.
It isn’t your fault that it is taking a long time for you to do it, says M. the other evening. We talk over a distance of oceans and I hum my gratefulness at being understood.
It is, unfortunately, your responsibility to protect yourself by letting them go. I wrap my blanket around me, wishing I had a sandwich while I’m crying.
You are almost there. Healing is hard work. I nod my head. Just kept nodding to an empty room.
To Be Held
To be held
by the light
was what I wanted,
to be a tree drinking the rain,
no longer parched in this hot land.
To be roots in a tunnel growing
but also to be sheltering the inborn leaves
and the green slide of mineral
down the immense distances
into infinite comfort
and the land here, only clay,
still contains and consumes
the thirsty need
the way a tree always shelters the unborn life
waiting for the healing
after the storm
which has been our life.
This is from Dark. Sweet: New & Selected Poems by Linda Hogan, published by Coffee House Press, 2014.