You and the born-again Christian had been arguing with the Trump supporter yesterday. “Un-American and divisive,” you had said. Today the Trump supporter rescues a spider that has found its way inside the building. She cups it in her hands and lets it free outside the side door. You and The New Guy talk about how you both don’t feel sorry for spiders that come inside. The Trump supporter says the spider has a right to live. Outside, the born-again Christian crushes a blue skink lizard beneath his boot. You, The New Guy, and the Trump supporter rush outside. The skink is on its back, pale belly up to the clouded sky, the lower half of it missing. You smack the born-again. The born-again says it was a snake, and that snakes are evil and that man has the right to kill. The born-again goes to his car to leave. The Trump supporter is visibly upset. You pick up the skink, holding him in your palms. He is very large and blue and white. His leg moves, and everyone realizes the skink is still alive. The Trump supporter, nearly in tears, says that the skink will just suffer now. You gaze into the flat black of the skink’s eye, and you see the life inside. You put him down gently on the ground, and cover him with leaves. The New Guy just stands there. The born-again drives away. The Trump supporter goes back to her desk quietly. The world lurches in your view, and you feel as though you have just witnessed a terrible act of violence. Later, you have a conversation with the Trump supporter about the life of a spider compared to the life of a lizard. Compared to one of our lives. Tell me, who dares to be righteous in the world nowadays? Who dares?
i used to think i had a good sense of humor
i thought i could take a joke as well as the next person
i laughed at the trip on the concrete, the falling paint can,
the bash on the head, the tumble down the stairs
when i was a child, i joked more like an adult:
people always seem to like children who are already cynical
beyond their years, like when you inform them that most
of the laugh tracks on the television were recorded in the 1950s,
so most of the people laughing these days are already dead.
forgive me, but i just don’t find sitcoms entertaining,
contemporary cartoons confuse me,
and the average internet meme
works with an understanding of horror
at existence that i am already well familiar with.
i watch the office men slap each other on the ass
in that good-old-boy fashion and light their cigars,
and these still half-grown 50-something year old
housewives titter hysterically at someone else’s expense.
maybe i’m too serious for my own good.
maybe wanting to laugh with joy at something pure
is asking too much.
to the sea go all our heaps of unrealized dreams
the older we get, the more memories we have to sift through,
surrendering some to the earth, augering them into the dirt.
we think we’ve finally put them to rest but they float up into
the atmosphere and always find their way back home to nestle
against our faces that go slack with sleep as the sun drops
below the horizon. we dream of traveling underwater, which
is alot like traveling through space, though we swim through
gardens of kelp instead of fields of stars. we have learned to
breathe underwater but we have not learned to keep our
hearts open, believing that the pearls have already been taken
from the shells. the grains of sand ripen beneath the moonlight,
but when we reach for them they are only iridescent illusion.
listen hard for the silence after the crashing of the wave.
look to the surface so that we may break our hearts again
and again upon the shore until we are complete.
before anyone wakes we go out to claim the things that aren’t ours
this rock, this tree, this sidewalk (and also by extension, the packing
foam caught in the upheaval of pavement and the gallon water bottle
that has been on the lawn for days) is mine. this life is also mine.
but the need to delineate can only be contained within its own
little box, and today is paper day so the cardboard boxes get
put out, too. we have heard there is money in collecting other
people’s trash, but don’t bear the heat well in the summers so
that job is out of the question. retreating to an air-conditioned
cubicle, we can only wonder if our lives are really our own.
i take my pills and mix them with groundwater and call it
a tonic. in a state where you wouldn’t find trash within a mile
of a park, a man tells me that they won’t take your pizza box
if it has even a smidge of grease on it, so i wipe the fingerprints
off my heart and hope it won’t be there in the morning.
the internet will tell us the moon will not be full
until 10:53 this morning so please do not howl
until then. it is with some relief that i sit down
at the breakfast table, and nurse myself with
some coffee and eggs in the honeyed daylight.
it is not yet spring, so we have some time before
the lawnmowers start racing across the suburban
lawns, neighbors waving to each other while
secretly in competition. one of them leaves a note
taped to the other’s storm door: if you can’t wave
at me, please do not wave at my wife. the car is
parked with its sad flat tire because i couldn’t get
to the mechanic the day before, so the trip to the
woods is cancelled. we will watch the birds migrate
on the television instead, spooning last night’s
dreams into our mouths while thumbing through
the newspaper declaring a state of national
emergency due to the commander in chief’s
hair on fire. outside, the swans will drift quietly
across the mirrored lake, mates for life with no
option for divorce. the moon is so full in the sky
and we open our windows, ready to scream.
maybe it is the expectation that keeps me from going,
but i have never been to cape cod to go whale watching
and i have never gone to maine to eat crustaceans
with butter that i would catch with my tongue as it
dripped down my finger in a manner i imagine a man
might come at me, hungry, lips parted, looking for
something salty. it is morning. i wash the brine of last
night’s dreams out of my hair. the sound must be
different from the recordings, but no one listens to
whale song on vinyl. to stare into a whale’s eye is to
see the universe in eternity, to know the weight of the
world under the heaviness of sky and depth of water.
it is the expectation of something salty that makes
the sweetness of the butter so pronounced.
off the coast of new zealand, 200 whales beach themselves
and it is only the expectations of the people watching
that keeps them from flying free into the sky.
he kisses the girl
shoots the bad guy
sometimes there is even
a shocking revelation
i begin to think that
there must be something in that scene
that is worth picking apart.
we’d talk about it afterwards
unravel plot while lacing fingers
talk about your next break
you wanted to be unforgettable,
every word deliberate,
to utter something quotable on a friday night.
i remember the carp in the pool in the lobby,
the bouquet of white flowers, the view of the skyline,
what you smelled like under all that cologne
when you hit me across the face, then fucked me
stars finally dancing around your face.
surely there is something in that scene
that is worth picking apart.
at the pharmacy, i waited at the counter
feeling like i had something to explain
some excuse for being there
at the threshold of the door
where you signal me
to be silent,
that this was the part where i die
the applause is thunderous.
sweaty-palmed, i grip the wheel and veer
off from my straight-arrowed path–
the ramp says “closed” so i get lost
in the wide empty streets
not worrying, thinking about instead
how much it costs to heat all of these huge houses
if their inhabitants wake up in the mornings
freezing, padding silently across the dining room
with its fresh carpet marks
to the refrigerator in the kitchen.
i crane my neck looking for some glimpse
of glamour in the everyday-ness of it all,
the lives other people are living,
when i think i am so unique
having been called a flower
by a man who will die without
ever seeing me again.
i pass the bird sanctuary
but it is empty today.
my car smells of smoke
and my hair is crackling with electricity
from last night’s dreams.
i will come home and press my finger to the touchpad
of my computer repeatedly,
but it still won’t recognize me.
for the first time in nine years,
i think about getting a tv.
lately i just want to passively absorb,
take it all in by osmosis.
writing takes too much effort
and my dwindling attention
can’t attend to the books i’m reading.
in the cafe, the barista remarks
that my name is the name of a woman
from a show called mob wives.
i laugh nervously, not knowing
whether this is a good thing
or a bad thing.
just knowing that it is a thing
makes me anxious.
i feel uncomfortable about
sharing my name with this
mob wife named renee.
i bet she watches tv all the time.
in my room, i spend long hours
sitting in my armchair watching
the lights change color in my lamp,
candles throwing light up against
the bare cinderblock wall.
i think about what i would watch on tv.
nature documentaries, maybe.
the cheetah with the gazelle in its mouth,
the whales before they go extinct,
the woman eating the man’s heart out of his chest
and smiling for the camera,
trying so hard to be real.
how do i explain all the lost time, the mornings
spent sitting motionless when i should have been
exploding like a star, throwing light in all directions,
crippled by inertia and the thought that no one may
ever forgive me, ever, and that i am still that same girl
from fifteen years ago, slinging blood and hate and pills
and we like our memories shaken, not stirred
but the trees have already dropped their acorns of ire
and my skin is studded with seeds that grow too fast.
my lighter is empty but i still have a box of matches.
i used to climb trees trying to be closer to the sun,
but it was just the reflection from the airplanes.
a satellite emerges from my head but the signal is lost
and i used to think freewheeling was fun, but now i’m
nauseous with regret and the downhill doesn’t stop
until you hit a tree limb the ghosts of some teenage
kids left in the street. all those things i never told you
are sealed behind the flesh that has grown over my mouth
and instead flood forth from my eyes, bathtubs flowing over
the porcelain lip of reason. i was supposed to be past all this,
i was supposed to be all growth like the lushest rainforest,
my brain a well-tended garden, my heart a conifer that never
would brown, and i would try to reframe this all,
but i have already dropped the match.
where was i supposed to be
somewhere within that light
deep inside your heart
a forgotten place, but one
of my own making.
these days i can hardly pick
up the phone without feeling
like atlas, my shoulders gone
gray and heavy.
i shudder and sputter
in a twist of lingering fragrance
from the blood orange mist
squeezed out from between
your hands your lips
as you reach for me.
maybe i don’t pursue close
friendships these days
because i just want to
remember you as you were,
as we were,
before i ruin anything.
my heart is full of general love–
isn’t that enough?
i’d hug you but it would first
to put down the world.
my head is a time capsule of memory:
bury me only to dig me up years later,
after the ribbon cutting ceremony
blessing the old graveyard for a new
we’ve got nowhere to build but up now.
inside: letters turned to cinder turned to ash,
a well-loved prescription bottle of pills turned
to powder, provider name and phone number
blacked out, just these four words,
take two at bedtime. then
an asterisk and a fold-out tome of
side effects, but maybe sleep can erase
these led lights and flat screen melodramas.
in the apartments, the tenants find their
kitchen drawers open and all the knives missing,
but the cat stays asleep on the windowsill
so nobody panics.
the walls are too thin. conversations
penetrate the membranes: “what’s it like to be alive?”
somewhere buried in that time capsule
is the answer to that, too.
at least i used to think so.
we put our mouths on mute,
and suck in the air conditioned atmosphere.
in another hundred years, this will again
be a graveyard, just not the kind you thought.
the day is saturated with the colors of changing leaves
the shifting of pigment, shunting sugar and sap to trunk.
these days the miracles are small. a miracle might be not
killing the spider you saw in the corner of your closet, or
not calling out as someone you think you recognize walks
past your car where you are sitting chain-smoking
and hating it. the ivy that climbs the wire spanning
the highway on your way home–how you love to see
it creeping further and further along each day, and now,
that scarlet flush that has ignited along the bottom edge
of the vine as people complain about the chill in the air
the same way they complain about the humidity and heat
the same way they complain about people who talk but
don’t communicate–the woman who spoke to you about
how she ran upstairs weeping, after pulling the eggplant,
still living, from the garden–they are alive, she said through
her tears–these are miracles, the miracles of awareness,
the simultaneous joyous swoop an eagle takes when
the air currents are just right and the unbearable cold
spot on your sheets where you are still sleeping with ghosts,
the miracles of a tree dropping its leaves and letting go,
the way people should learn to let go, to let the miracle
of themselves dapple the world, like light on a windowsill
filtered down through the tree of our hearts.
the fall air, too humid still, sticks to my skin
and my hand opens, palming the quarters off
to the starbucks barista. i am 34 years old and
still pay with change for my coffee, for my ikea
lingonberry drink, for my cigarettes. i hate
the smell of the money on my fingers,
that metallic residue that carries with it
the hands of countless unknown others,
the scent of leather wallets, pocketbooks,
the soft flimsy material that is supposed to
pass for pockets in womens jeans, barely
large enough to fit my hand at all. the bills
are bad enough, that dingy green paper,
but the coins are the worst, and i can’t
wait to get wherever it is that i’m going,
to rid myself of the sticky fingerprints,
to erase the reek of metal from flesh,
to wash the smell of blood off my hands.
We were locked out of the gate
but we didn’t mind, and settled
for our mediocre jobs and childless
houses. Our wombs were not empty
so much as inaccessible, a sign hung
on the outside that read NO ENTRANCE
like a section of the museum they had
been renovating. People come and peek
past the red velvet rope, wondering
when the new exhibit would open,
not knowing the museum director
had already fled, saddled up her horse
and rode herself off into the sunset,
grinning as she flew past the crows.
i wait for the ear plug to expand in my canal
after the first time, it’s hard to get a good seal.
my shoulders ache despite morning yoga
like rubbing your belly and patting your head
i can either breathe, or i can move,
but not both, not at the same time.
the ear plugs are for when i can’t bear
the whoosh of the air conditioner
the phone with its digital ringtone
the tin-can radios, talk-show droning,
cowboy twanging, disney theme songs.
i take a step towards the doorway,
pause and breathe, then take another step
lock myself in the bathroom for an hour,
staring at my face in the tiny round mirror
that is hung too high. a disembodied head
with shadows under half-lidded eyes,
compressed purple foam in my ears
–it fills an empty space for now.
i am tired of lessons
tired of the stillborn
tired of incurable young kids
tired of the smell of death
on the highway
where they haven’t moved
the corpse of an animal
for six days
i am told they are teaching souls,
the ones who die young.
what kind of lesson
am i supposed to learn
from a dead baby deer
on the side of the road
what kind of lesson
am i supposed to learn
from a baby blue with
an umbilical cord
wrapped around its neck
things that get the life taken from them
before they can even open their eyes
maybe it’s just my birthday
coming up in my throat
the palpable feeling of decay
that everyone walks around with
and tries to ignore
maybe it doesn’t mean anything.
maybe it’s trying to tell me
that i’m better off.
i’m not sure which is worse.
my mind is a denizen of the sky–
when i try to inhabit my body i am
disgusted. my head is a reference
for my mind. when i inhabit my head
it splits open with thought, not being.
i am ungrounded yet still tethered,
my heart beats but does not make
a sound. i bury it in salt each night
to keep it intact. when the light comes,
i am under the sheets and shivering
a dead butterfly caught in my throat.
a spider tries to follow, and i swallow.
i would say to the stars, give me wisdom
or give me death, but they are already
dead, and their ghosts laugh as they
shine down on my emptiness.
some days i can’t keep my head atop
my shoulders, and let it roll off, into
the weed-choked ditch. it simmers
beneath the summer sun, and my
mouth is full of mud from which no
lotus will grow. i want the world to
take me from myself, and i want
my self to be taken back to the sky.
the clouded landscape will take my
pain, and i will be released as vapor,
to rain down on the earth again.
the healer herself is damaged
which brings into question
if it lessens her ability to heal
if her own lack of self-acceptance
hinders the gift of healing
when she does not breathe
she cannot heal others
when she does not channel
she cannot heal others
when she doubts Divinity
she cannot heal herself.
if your heart is a votive, mine is a structure fire
how i yearn for that sweet incineration that burns
away all memory, blackening out all the dark hours
of loneliness until they turn to ash and blow away.
when we lose everything we are free, i am told,
but i am unable to cut these tendrils of feelings
attached to the cigarette embers that were there
for me when no one else was, or could be.
help me forget. i have experienced madness, love,
rage, and sorrow, and it is only late afternoon.