But Not Like This

A hundred times I’ve laid down in the middle of a dream and waited for it to finish lying to me and I hold my hand out to someone I don’t know who’s waiting for their dream to stop lying too. We always find each other. It’s like the worst prom in the world where everyone is chewing through the walls with chainsaws and knives and eventually the slow song ends and everyone waits in silence for the dust to settle before running to the exits in panic. I want to exit too, but not like this.

We is me and you and her and him and they and the everyone hanging out in the unknown dark waiting to emerge clean and new-baptized in their own skin to the truth that shines through them into the light where we all end up. But not like this, not like this.

Water rises over bridges, mountains fall down across plains. Spirits rise above bones, ashes fall down across memories like butterflies smothering tissue-thin blossoms. We reflect everything around us and everything reflects us back. I have clothed myself in black and chains, moving through your life recklessly like the thing you try to lock away but can’t keep hidden. You hate me because you hate yourself. I have clothed myself in wreaths of blossoms with my hair falling to my waist. You love me because I remind you of your young heart. I see it crushed, we all get crushed. But not like this, not like this.

I will give myself over to the light when it releases me from the shadows where I’ve grown taller than my fears. When it becomes more than what I’ve found in the dark. I’ll give myself over to the light when there aren’t any hard questions left, when I’ve run out of coins for this parking meter of lost souls. I will give myself over to the light when there’s a surfeit of love for the broken down queens of solace. When the richest see themselves reflected in the faces of the poor. I will give myself over to the light when it lays down for me first. But not like this, please, not like this.

 

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I Run Towards Arrows

try to follow if you can

In my mind I live life operatically. In reality I live like an animal balloon wheezing out its last squeak. I run towards arrows like a reckless soldier who knows her luck, such as it was, has diminished into negligent margins. I make wide gestures of living because I don’t know how to keep my thoughts and limbs tight. I’m a constant explosion of raw thought and strange spaghetti words stuck to peeled paint ceilings falling deftly, silently, into the mouths of witless dreamers.

Most of the time I doubt the substance of my own bones. I’m the bitter ghost of all abused children, the patron saint of broken skin. Most of the time I feel myself disappear  beneath the weight of human suffering. I can’t breathe when you can’t breathe. I can’t move on when your nightmares burn through your last defenses and you construct walls to hold your bleeding fear in check.

Whatever I am is less important than holding your wings out for your free-fall from earth’s atmosphere. Whatever I am is less important than helping you find the light burning quietly through your solar plexus, the same light that will ignite bonfires across a universe of unquenchable thought.

I can’t make you see yourself in your own mirror. All I can do is reflect you in mine where you shine like a spirit without anchor, where you shimmer into a pool of collected precipitation.

I will always break your fall here in the cotton mornings.

I will give you my skin. I don’t need it where I’m going.

I will give you my voice. It’s the only weapon I’ve ever mastered.

I will give you my heart, because a lifetime of shattering couldn’t prevent it from mending under the protective film of poetry.

You are magnificent. This morning, right now, in every stumble towards the next frame, the next conversation – YOU. ARE. MAGNIFICENCE.

Go on. Close your eyes and dream.

I will never be far from you.

 

She is he is he is she

West Side

Words used to hit me like Morse code across a hot wire, used to run through my mind like a ticker-tape of lyrical image juxtaposed against a violent sky of napalm burn. Now I sit down with these insipid glass bones and paper heart that only speak when I set them on fire with damp matches.

I drag my bloated feet down familiar streets singing uncomfortable lullabies about babies in trees that fall, giants that consume snappy bones and bowls full of the effluvium of human desire. Neighbors laugh uncomfortably as I shuffle past them with my bruise-y pall. I make things worse throwing my head back in laughter like a mad hungry hyena, whites of my eyes brushing their hackles with Christ-thorns.

I will devour you like tough sponge-cake. I will eat every rough crumb until you’re lost inside my labyrinth of sick organs. Only way out is to become a flood of words rupturing my spleen in the early hours when my teeth are soaking next to the bed and my dreams are wandering dangerously close to truth.

Let. Me. Bleed.

I dream the reflection of your God. He is priceless fodder for reinvention. She is the moon of all bones. He is the water to your glass. She is the substance of your sight. He is the rot to your body. She is he is he is she.

The she and the he is everything together. Separately each are nothing.

Nothing.

Between the She and the He are a thousand beautiful permutations of creation.

We are everyone.

 

No Wrong Way to Say Goodbye

veil contrast

There’s a lot of ways we dig graves for the people we used to be, for the people we have loved, for the lives we’ve left behind, and for the thresholds we’ve crossed stitched together with nothing more than booze and frayed embroidery stitches holding our bones up. We dig deep into humus until we reach the hard packed soil underneath, until we hit rocks and flint and moon. We dig until we see the same stars in the dark abyss that we see in the burgeoning night sky.

There’s no wrong way to say goodbye, so let the velvet drapes hang heavy across your mourning, shutting out the thin grim air of death. Cover yourself in wreaths of old roses rich with the incense of crumbling castles shrouded in cool mists you can wear like clothes in your waking dreams. Go ahead, draw and quarter your misery until it has nothing left to scream or bleed. Paint it with blue woad and strike its tatters down until you’re empty of it all.

If you hear the scattering of spirits like raindrops on a tin roof, if you feel the brush of ghost butterflies against your cheek and you need to press it between thin pages of rice paper so it will be preserved in the soft book of time for others to open and discover for themselves in reverent breaths, no one will think less of you. There are as many ways to say goodbye as there are ways to love.

Black band, lavender silks, cascading veils of grief, or candles burning through the night; every urge you have, every instinct that pushes you forward through the dark towards the light is natural. Prostrate yourself against old gravestones or drink yourself half to death if it’s how you need to drag yourself over the finish line.

We all get there in exactly the time it takes us.  If anyone tells you it isn’t fast enough, or you aren’t strong enough, or you aren’t sad enough, or you don’t cry enough, or you don’t pray enough, or you don’t care enough, or you aren’t doing it right: shut them out. Power them down. Sometimes saying “fuck yourself” is the best way to say goodbye.

Wail against the walls that hold you in, shred your nails against the coffin suffocating your sleep, punch fate in the jaw like it tried to grab your bare balls when you thought you were naked alone. Let your underbelly be your strength, let your play be your vocation, let your love push through every grave life digs for you. Rise up through every burial to fly with the mourning doves over branch, under twig, through leaves, until you’ve cleared the canopy of life on earth and exited the atmosphere.

You might not cry tears but at some point you’re going to feel shredded by loss. You’re going to stand out in a thunder storm, drenching and shivering in the cold, and you won’t be able to move or think rationally, and you’ll think you’ll never be able to come in from the wet cold. But you will. Hands will draw you home. Sometimes the hands of strangers, sometimes the hands of those who love you.

I hope when the moment comes to say goodbye you’ll dance and laugh and shriek with joy out in the thick drape of rain. I hope you’ll find the light in the gloom and laugh at the dark that shrinks in your light. I hope you’ll wear your sorrow unapologetically and light votives for fleeing spirits to find their paths home. I hope you’ll come with me to the cantina of the dead and waltz through the empty neighborhoods in our shared nightmares so that we both wake fresh and ready for everything we’ve got left.

 

The Destructive Hubris of Humans

the fly up close

Does this picture make you uncomfortable? Itchy? Grossed out? Are you trippin’ on the fact that me and this fly are equally hirsute? Okay, fuck you, I’m hairier than a goddamn fly. It’s body is also a much prettier hue than mine. Fucker. This fly was dying. I find flies intensely irritating but I also have mad respect for how much more important they are to the planet than humans. That’s a true fact. Humans do nothing for the planet’s ecosystem while flies are a vital part of breaking down organic matter into nutritious soil-improving humus that helps plant life flourish. Ants and flies are vitally important, humans aren’t important at all.

All humans contribute to earth is their destructive hubris.

There was a time when at least dead humans fed maggots and ants and could be counted on as fertilizer for plants  but then we, in our hubris, decided that we were too good to rot like other animals. We began to devise ways to avoid returning to the soil naturally and learned to turn our corpses into toxic land mines.

I DO kill flies sometimes when they get in my house and won’t stay out of my face or off of my food. But when I do so, I understand that I’m killing a better creature than myself. It’s not sometimes I celebrate. This dying dude and I shared some poetry together and I let him hang out on my arm as he pleased. I had beer, it was a moment. I later found him on my floor feet skyward.

I’ve gone mentally microscopic. My thoughts have become macro views of an almost invisible universe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the novels I have in my queue. My urge to work on fiction is strong but not strong enough right now. It’s all percolating. I’ve had the freeing thought that I don’t have to ever work on the stories I’ve semi-mapped out already if a newer more urgent one starts screaming through my mental discomfort.

I had awful nightmares last night. So much going on in them. It’s hard to quantify what made them so disturbing. What made them stressful. If I have one directive with my writing it’s to put the tension and strange terrain of my nightmares into stories, out of my head and into other people’s heads. You probably think I mean to write horror. I do not. I don’t like the horror genre. Incidentally, this might sting some of my writer friends, I have always disliked Lovecraft. I don’t care for monsters and mystical creatures as villains or gore for titillation. Humans are the villains of my nightmares. Humans and chaos and slowing time and the vile sludge of human filth.

Broken-down over-flowing stench-filled public bathrooms have long been a recurring horror in my nightmares.

Rape, torture, dismemberment are other horrors of my nightmares and of my mind. I’ve heard a lot of people on Twitter saying lately that they’re tired of rape being depicted in books, that there’s no need for that. I get not wanting to read rape scenes. I get that women are tired of the rape of women being common.* A lot of people are calling rape in fiction a “device”. I disagree wholeheartedly with this assessment. It’s true that some authors may use rape as a story device. But in a lot of stories, especially by women, this is a depiction of reality. Rape is an inexorably common occurrence, particularly against women, and to stop telling stories that have rape in them is to expunge an enormously life-shaping experience too many people have.

I think rape has been featured in stories so much and continues to be featured because it’s so common in reality. Dwelling on the scenes might be sensationalism at times but I’ve read at least a thousand books in my life and in most books rape is glossed over. So much so that when it’s treated to a dose of reality in books like “The Color Purple” it’s shocking and gutting. I believe this is a more important story for women to tell than the age old story of women being mothers, wanting to be mothers, worshiping motherhood. Good god, we never stop reading stories about women as mothers. The impact of having kids in every possible circumstance. Women as wives. Women as Femme Fatales.

But books that deal intelligently and honestly with women as the sexual objects of men and as the punching bags of bitter disappointed angry men – WRITTEN BY WOMEN – are still too thin on the ground.

I don’t actually want to read books that are just about women’s experiences of being raped. I want to see stories about women’s lives from a more complete view. I want to know about the violence women experience and how it shapes their lives and most importantly I want to know how they come through it, I want to know how women have become empowered after being crushed.

Life is full of violence. I don’t have any stories to tell that aren’t full of violence too. I don’t have any gentle stories to tell. There are no gentle corners in my head. There are no verdant green spaces full of fairies and flowers and flooded with only love and good and beauty. The brighter the beauty of a thing the darker its corners are in my experience.

Most of my stories don’t have rape in them specifically. One of them does and it’s important. It’s so important to me that I write it but it’s the one story that I’ve written so much for and remains hopelessly tangled and inarticulate. It’s the hardest story to tell of all the stories in my queue.

Until violence against women and abuse of women becomes a rare thing, stories that involve violence and abuse against women remain important. For every woman who remains silent about her experiences out of shame or fear, women writers need to open the way. We need to be telling their stories for them. We need to be exploring how to come away from those violent experiences stronger than we were before we went through them. We need to explore how to stop it from happening to others. We need to explore why it happens. We need to explore the dark tunnels that lead to light.

Not talking about bad things has never fixed a thing. Burying stories because they’re unpleasant gives the unpleasantness all the room it needs to flourish. Silence is never the way forward. Silence is never the way to healing.

I’m not interested in reading stories that use rape or violence as a “device”. But I dare you to find any great story that isn’t propelled forward by either an overt or an implied threat of violence. It’s pretty much the underpinning to all conflict. If not literal violence, then aggression that ruins people. There are no good stories devoid of either aggression or violence. Without one or the other (the one is just one end of a continuum that leads to the other) there can be no conflict. Without conflict there is no tension and no tension means no story to follow.

Sometimes you have to stop listening to the voices of strangers on social media, even of other writers, and trust yourself to write what you need to write and know that someone out there desperately needs you to write it. I write for myself and for that someone who hasn’t yet found their own voice and needs to borrow mine for courage.

Part of this journey of self care is to shut out all the approbation of others, the shoutings and the directives others are pasting all over their own walls and sharing publicly, to paint my own directives, to shout my own truths. To ignore the wider world so that I can listen to the macro world, the almost invisible world around me. I’m shutting out news and activism and babble and rabble – so that I can get to a deeper kind of spiritual activism.

 

 

*IT IS COMMON IN REAL LIFE.

Babushka Nation

happy babushka

Five years ago, wearing my favorite fashion accessory of all time – the Babushka. You’ve all seen this pic a thousand times but sometimes the only picture that will do for a post is an old favorite one.

I’ve always been a rustic old peasant lady at heart. I love simple food best. I need a strong connection to dirt* to feel whole. I love beets. I mean, I LOVE BEETS AND EVERY TIME PEOPLE MAKE SNARKY REFERENCES TO RUSSIANS SMELLING OF BEETS I EXPERIENCE THE FAMILIAR PANG I ALWAYS DO THAT I’M NOT AT ALL RUSSIAN AND ALSO THAT I DON’T EVER SMELL OF BEETS EVEN WHEN I’M ELBOW-DEEP PICKLING THEM.

toothy smile 2

My soul smells of beets, wet dirt, black wool, and rope soles.

Today it was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was covered shoulder to shoe in mostly black. Was I uncomfortable? Hell yes. But I could have been naked and I’d have been just as uncomfortable. My pants are long and drapey with an attached over-skirt. It has a Muslim or Indian feel to it. But mostly I felt like an old Greek woman today. An old Greek woman missing her babushka. A babushka is a brilliant accessory. It protects you from religious outrage against bare heads, against scalp sunburn, against the dreaded bad hair day, and it achieves membership in a non-exclusive club of super-gritty street smart women (and perhaps a few men?) who know how to pickle EVERYTHING and throw darts and get a mule to co-operate and other things way more important than world domination or gun ownership.

IMG_9882

Why fight it when you’re finally old enough to pull off the person you’ve always been? I’m fat, middle aged, and I haunt the local farm. I wear mostly black and yet I’ve become too lazy to apply makeup and arrange a babushka over my head? I’ve been an old lady out of context for my whole life UNTIL NOW.

stupid contrast

Many years now I’ve been most at home haunting my local farms. Breathing in the dust of hard dry tractor paths, collecting yellow tomato dust on my dry dirty fingers, saying ridiculous things only geeks or old ladies would say while my vegetables are being weighed. Uncomfortable with my Carson McCullers soul living in a Stephenie Meyer world, finding the farmer’s skull scars oddly attractive, crushing slightly on the farmer’s daughter slowly morphing into the farmer’s son.

Nowhere else am I more myself than in the middle of a mile long row of farm tomatoes. Nowhere else am I more myself than when I’m aproned, grimy with vegetable juice, hair covered in a scarf, and singing working class ballads into the hot summer breeze.

That’s a lie. The other time and place I’m most myself is during torrential downpours, out in the open, streaming with mountain water, laughing like a fucking loon and dancing like someone who knows hollow shadows. I AM rain. I AM snow. I AM bird.

I’ve been wearing a babushka since I was a teen. I’ve let it slide lately. Let it fall by the wayside. My national attire is a babushka, a fitted jacket, an ankle length voluminous skirt, Ghillie brogues, and red lipstick. Give me my office, I can rip your soul from your skin if you can’t give me room to breathe.

Just kidding. I don’t have power over you.

Much.

Knowing what you’re made of gives you power over the outcomes of your actions.

I’m not your cheerleader, I’m your grandmother. I tame kittens, make the best spinach pie, can stop your knee from bleeding faster than the ER, and I’ll shed my ghosts so they’ll only haunt you when you most need them. I come with a stick of butter in my spoon and olive oil in my pot.

 

*I’m sorry Dennis, it’s more satisfying sometimes to call it dirt than “soil”. I cringe in your honor every time I say it.

The Wrong Kind of Luminescence

Oakland

If I could live inside music I think I might be okay for always. I wish I could sleep in music, breathe in music, and dream in music. Why must I always sink in the cacophony of human voices instead? Hearing the scratching of souls against blank dark windows for someone to open them when no one answers. I hear the caterwauling of pain all the way through the milky way. Why can’t I snuff out the voices full of pain across the world and get lost in the joy of music?  Maybe the pain of it too, but in music human pain is more bearable because it’s being flung outward across plateaus where it careens into lush mountains or across molten plains of wheat and is sheathed in otherworldly light, baptized into something more holy and healing.

I wasn’t meant to live like this, in fragile skin, with breakable bones, and friable teeth. I was meant to be strong medicine, like retrograde Venus.

This is the wrong kind of luminescence. It’s kindred to the death-mask. The last thoughts and prayers that paralyze the dead under cover of arching oak trees.

What will I have left to say when my bullets are drawn? What will I have left to say when the spirits are dry and the party is over? What will I have left to say now that Mattis is dead and buried and his shadow isn’t even pressing into my nightmares with the calm cool gloves of the gentleman’s touch? What will I have left to say when all the smoke has drifted to the heavens and found I haven’t got a place higher than the short English daisies meeting the sea? What will I have left to say when the last of us is slit open in the bathtub of God’s hot water?

Tonight I can’t even put a dying fly out of its misery. And it hurts that its reached its end in my office. Slowly, covering the surfaces of my desk and skin with mirthless determination. It rests just left of my computer screen, gathering the strength to traverse just a little more wood until it can’t move through the light. So we stare at each other and we understand how alike we are in relation to our vulnerability. I’m careful not to set my beer bottle on its exoskeleton. Its not so careful it doesn’t climb my beer bottle.

I miss when I was more in my body, as much as I fear it. I liked the thrust of a sword to express my determination to keep taking up space. I liked the bees crowding the ivy in the light of the lowering sun. I liked when my foil flashed through semi-dark to cut down the last light. I liked when sleep was an exercise in hope instead of inevitability. I liked when I could meet the dawn with the vigor of a resuscitated hero. Now I slink behind my own shadow like there isn’t a better bigger shadow I can  twist into my excuse for everything.

Rise, motherfuckers, like you’re the breath of Christ and God is real. Rise, motherfuckers, like you’re what God hoped for all along.

I may have buried my voice a little so that I wouldn’t be discovered in time to hear the responses I don’t want to acknowledge. I want the fierce writing and self care habits of my past but with the wisdom of my present. I want for all those lessons to have not been in vain. I want for all of that blood-letting to have been constructive, or at least to have meant something. Anything.

Under the Bakelite weight of this phone I can hear the past recalling itself to order, planning its comeback in tight satin pants and spangles.

This slow poison is how I communicate with the devil of my disorder. You can fuck yourself.Whatever voice is shouting loudest in my head right now is the one I pray to. Fuck loyalty. It’s about who can out-maneuver me in my own head, every single time. I’m crippled by my own fear. I was lost before I hit double digits. Lost in the atmosphere of my own bile and quickened heartbeat. The nightmares were brutal and absolute. They swallowed everything before I knew what everything was. There are memories that require quashing. Memories that can never be unburied without complete annihilation of self. And yet, there they are. Like concrete statues of fact shimmering in the corners of recollection like ghosts.

 

None of the Pieces Match

killer van

I wish everything in life could be reduced to an equation that ends in fruit pie.

Instead, I orchestrate my life carefully to resemble an easy jig-saw puzzle confusing everyone who approaches my board so they never discover that none of the pieces match and most of them are bruised anyway.

I’m the first carnivorous plant that feeds on its own flesh.

I’m the first moth killed by the shadow of its own wings.

I gave all my secrets to a bay tree when I was a kid. I gave it all my tears and shudders of shock. I shouted my nightmares into its leaves, slick with rain, reflecting the last light of my soul. Storms were born in that canopy of sharp herbaceous scented leaves. Storms railed and burnt out in its branches.

Sometimes I think that’s where I left myself.

I wonder if the course of my life would be perverted if that tree were ever cut down.

The Upward Thrust of Death

the upward angle of death

The upward thrust of death is something I’ve spent more hours thinking about than the average mortal. If you’re looking for proof of the irrationality of the death obsessed – consider my simultaneous belief that I would be dead by the age of 30 and the need for silverware to eat food with, a concern that obsessed me when I was 15 years old and planning to leave home.

I’m not in the habit of making promises I know I can’t keep. I’m not in the habit of counting seeds before storms. I’m not in the habit of counting bets before the race is over. Not in the habit of dying before I’ve had a chance to count my appointments with ghosts.

All my life I’ve been looking for my whole tribe and it’s taken stiff education to recognize them, to be brave enough to hail them, to understand that they’re always going to be different in unfathomable ways but be the same in all the ways that engender love, laughter, deep hell cleansing, and complete love. I’m so lucky to have, at this point in my life, gathered so many bright lights around me, tethered by alliances that can’t be denied or diminished. Peers, older generations, and the permeable beautiful youth that needs old hags like me to light the way to the non-partisan table of appetites and passions.

I keep wondering if I’m going to die before I do the thing I was born to do. This goes expressly against everything I believe which is:

1. We die exactly when we’re meant to die, you can’t die when you’re not meant to die.

2. Whatever it is you need to accomplish on this earth, in this life, is immaterial.

3. The only thing that matters is what you did while you had the chance.

I’ve spent so much time in the last two days cleaning up my office and throwing things out. Culling my junk. Sweeping out the dust and shittiest shit ever to hit the shit shelves. Sullied papers, blank letters, torn bits of self esteem, everything that reminds me of everything else except for the stuff that reminds me of the things I can’t bear to forget.

Been burrowing for too long not to know when I’ve hit the underground ocean, the sea-wall of underwater limitations, the line across which I have to swear and dance and tap and kick because I refuse to be held back yet again, silenced, led, and sold.

Good luck with this flesh.

 

The Dark Holes Listen

dumpster in Petaluma

Mapping out the original fiction. Taking hold of the ship mast because I’m the only one left who understands the wind. My compass is running on the fuel of my barefoot nightmares. It’s running on the exhaust of spent mornings and archived broken transportation routes. The money’s there if you can find it.

You won’t find it.

I’ll always be standing here watching Ava’s house burn down with the creepy doll in the attic melting into the woodwork and her kids looking up from the pavement with the same wide eyes. We played next to each other without words. I’ll always be pushing my baby sister across an endless tundra of fear and hot asphalt. Six years old and aware of the porn magazines ditched in the bushes I pushed my infant sister past. Shadows I’d crawled into clandestinely with other children to flip pages with penises we’d already seen, vaginas we’d all caught in the corner of our eyes.

Some of us had caught them in other dark holes and corners no one ever talked about, that we knew weren’t right. The broken toys always know they’re broken, you don’t have to shout about it.