Sunday, April 27, 2014

Living inside Brahms' Requiem

Have you ever walked inside a holy place and felt the awe that descends upon you as that holiness enters your body?  Perhaps in a church, or in front of the ocean, or standing in front of an amazing piece of art -- there is this thing that happens where something inside you moves and you feel a shift -- a change -- and everything becomes still and vibrant and alive, such that everything from your breath to the bottoms of your dirty shoes becomes sacred.  You feel alone and connected; isolated, yet bonded with all those who have stood on that holy ground before.  You feel certain that there is no way to ever tell anyone what just transpired -- and yet also feel certain they must have felt their center tremble, the goosebumps run from their legs up to the top of their skull, felt the tears stinging their eyes in joy, grief, fear, comfort, peace and sorrow.  It is a full-body, all encompassing experience that is impossible to describe.  Even the word "holy" -- one of the biggest words I know -- does not feel big enough to fit the vastness that is this experience. 

This is what it is like to sing Brahms' Requiem. 

I'm not really a singer.  I can read music enough to skate by, but this past September was the first time I sang in front of anyone since I mumbled through "The Rainbow Connection" with the children's choir when I was 12.  So this experience -- this way of learning to live inside Brahms' German Requiem -- this was new.  This was going outside of my comfort zone.  This was pushing my abilities to the limits, and messing up, and getting frustrated, and trying again.  This was wrong notes, meaningless syllables that were supposed to sound like words, squiggly lines I couldn't figure out, and rests I continuously sang through.  This was frantically glancing at my neighbor's eyes as I tried figure out where they were on her page, being unable to find the downbeat (any downbeat), and finding myself unable to count to 3.  This struggle felt anything but holy.

But then Brahms started getting stuck in my head.  I sang Brahms while I was washing dishes, while I was driving, while walking the dog.  Thank goodness my neighbors are Deaf -- otherwise, they too would be well-versed in Movements I - IV.  I sang Brahms in my head while at my desk at work, I hummed it in the hallways, and slowly, it became part of me.  It felt joyous, and angsty, comforting, sad and beautiful.  This agnostic sang about the word of the Lord enduring forever, and something about the ransomed of the Lord returning and coming to Zion, and though I really had no clue what I was saying, I loved it, as one can only love things we don't understand: with admiration and a certain respect and humility that the piece surely deserves.

At long last, things came together.  The first time I felt myself embodying that music during rehearsal, it nearly moved me to tears.  It felt right.  It felt like this making of music and sorrow and joy and comfort was something we were supposed to do.  It was at once intensely personal and vulnerable, and also a shared, community sense of belonging and connectedness.  It felt like community, and love, and it felt like coming home.  And then we lost it again...and so we rehearsed, and tried, and practiced, and sometimes we found it and sometimes we didn't.  We struggled, and we practiced, and we hated and loved Brahms simultaneously. 

I joined the choir in an act of faith.  Prior to joining, I had been what one might call a lurker at church: I came, hid out in the back, and left, quickly, talking to no one.  I did not trust community, and did not believe I could be part of it.  I did not believe I would be welcomed, did not believe that I was deserving of any friendship, or camaraderie, or love I may be given.  I was hesitant -- scared, even -- to belong, until finally, I let go of the comfortable trapeze bar to which I had been clinging, and I flew.  To my surprise, there was not only another trapeze bar within easy reach, but there was a trampoline below me, and a spotter on either side.  I came to remember how it feels to belong.

Even as I say "belonging," though, I know it is more than that.  Being part of that group today, standing there and singing a piece of music that is more vast than my mind and heart can fathom, I felt small and humbled, like I was standing not just before that which is holy, but actually residing inside it.  Like looking at the night sky, I felt dwarfed by the enormity of beautiful that was surrounding me.  And yet -- as part of the creation, I also felt powerful, and important, and necessary.  I was at once important and nothing, just as we all are at every moment in this universe.  Our minister of music reminded us often of how every note Brahms wrote was intentional.  Every note was shaping the next, and the next, and the next, until the whole line, the whole movement, the whole piece was born.  Without one of those notes, it would have been different.  Each one is necessary.  Each one is intentional.

And, perhaps, that's just it.  In the larger scheme of the world, this little performance today was nothing.  In the larger scheme of this particular piece of music, our non-professional, non-auditioned choir surely did not create the most beautiful or technical or important version to have been performed.  But it was intentional.  It was necessary.  The shape of our hearts and those of our listeners today would be different had we not sung it.  We created something holy using only our bodies.  Is it not necessary to create beautiful things, if only for the sake of creating something temporary and beautiful that changes the very shape of our souls?

Of course, if I had not been in the choir it would have been just as beautiful.  The teary eyes in the audience would still have been teary.  There still would have been the pause when we finished, as everyone breathed into the stillness that followed the intensity.  It still would have been holy. 

And yet -- I was there.  In order to create this music -- the music we birthed and inhabited today -- I was necessary.  We all were necessary.  If just one of us had not been there, it would have been different.  In order for my heart to be stirred in this way, we were -- each of us -- necessary.  In the creation of today's holiness, we were -- each of us -- intentional.

And isn't the piece itself one big parallel for this process -- my process -- of belonging?  I came to the choir and to UUCC in a place of mourning, of sorts.  As someone who struggles with the idea of a God, I define that which is god (that which is holy), as connection and community.  I find the divine in my connections with others, in love, in that which is held in belonging and kindness.  So when the first movement starts slowly, gently, softly, I hear:
Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.  
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  
They who suffer shall find happiness and joy. 

The second movement continues (with edits and interpretation on my part, for the sake of my parallel here): 
For all of us will suffer, and all of us will die.  
Be patient therefore unto the coming of that which is holy...  
That which is love shall endure forever.  
And you shall come to a place of holiness with songs
 and everlasting joy upon your heads: 
you shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

And the third movement carries it further still, singing that death and suffering is reality for us all, and then:
In what shall I take comfort? 
I hope in that which is holy.  
Our souls are held by the hands of that which is love, 
and there no torment shall touch us.

Finally, the fourth movement -- the last one we sang -- brings it all to a beautiful, comforting end:
How lovely are the places where holiness abides!  
My soul longs for those places, and my heart and flesh rejoice in their love.  
How blessed we are to live in this house of love and holiness. 

Is this what Brahms meant in his Requiem?  No, likely not...but I like to think he would not find this interpretation to be blasphemous.  Having resided as I did, however briefly and imperfectly, within his Requiem, I like to think that he would see this interpretation as I do: simply intentional, and necessary. 

To my fellow singers: thank you.  I am humbled by your talents, your beauty, and your love.  How blessed we are to live together in this house of love and holiness. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014


This is also a poem I have a history of disliking.  When I wrote this poem, it was much longer...and was quite boring in parts.  It had good pieces, but it was actually kinda dull.

I went to a poetry reading -- my very, very first poetry reading, actually -- and I took this poem.  I was scared.  Like, body and voice shaking type of scared.  But I read it, and people liked it, I got a lot of good feedback on it, but there was that one lady.  You know that one lady?  That ONE LADY that has something to say about everything.  After the poetry reading, when I was feeling all buzzed from the adrenaline of doing something I was scared to do, That One Lady came up to me and said, "your poem was nice...but the ending was cheap.  I wanted to be wowed.  You can do better."

And just like that, I hated the poem.  It has a cheap ending.  It didn't wow.  Bummer.  Another one for the recycling bin, I guess.

It's embarrassing that I let That One Lady, in her gold-tipped pumps and too much blue eye shadow ruin that experience for me, but she did.  I have since written and rewritten and rewritten this poem, hearing That One Lady's words ringing in my ears so clearly that my eyes stung with the perfume she bathed in.  

Perhaps it's the streak of defiance I have in me -- but in as many times as I have rewritten it, I have never changed the ending.  I've tried, but it doesn't want to be rewritten.  There is literally nothing else that comes up, other than that cheap, non-wowing end.  

So this is it.  This is the final version of this poem.  Complete with the cheap ending and the lack of wow. 

And you know what?  I'm okay with that.  So there, lady in the gold-tipped pumps.  

No, seriously, I want the end of this poem to be kind of quiet.  I like the overall arc of the poem.  It starts rather quiet, it's intense through much of the middle, and all the way through to halfway through the last stanza...and then it gets quiet again.  It needs that, I think.  I need it to be that way, because I want the wow in the middle.  It's not a wholly satisfying ending, but is the first step of a journey ever satisfying?  I think not -- how can it be!

Is an ending still "cheap" if it has a purpose?


This poem is for the women who are story-holders.
It is not for the story tellers.
I’m not talking about stories that come out in coffee shops,
at the water cooler,
over phone calls while cooking dinner or changing diapers,
this poem is for the stories held in the wombs of women.

Impregnated by generations before
these stories send women into a labor of silence.
Fear.  Shame.   Rage,
and they bestow inconceivable strength.
When women can’t give birth to their story,
they hold it, deep inside, in places that will see no light,
in places where no one can hear the screaming,
and so they become

They hold so many stories in their story-holding wombs,
they don’t know how many stories are there.
Like my story-holder:
I got down the other day in front of my
full-length mirror and I looked and listened,
held it, rocked it, tried to comfort it,
till I heard this story:
my grandmother’s sister died in a fire in the outhouse.
My great-aunt, she was with her when she died,
and all the women in my family held this story
and told no one for so many years, it was almost like
it never happened.
Except for the fact that it did.
Except for the fact that my great-aunt hid in closets during storms and no one knew why.
Except for the fact that her story-holding daughter moved away and made her story that
she didn’t have a mother.
Her story ends that she killed herself
and all those stories.
I guess some stories
are just too painful to be born. 

The women in my family are story-holders
but not story-birthers.
We hold our stories tight
ignoring every throb, pang, seize of story pain.
These stories are not safe for work.
Not safe for home.
Not safe for human consumption --
and yet we carry them
and we give them to our daughters to carry.

My story-holder holds my sister’s story.
This story, you must hold close to your heart:
bring it into you, let it feel your heart beating,
bring it in to the warm place between your breasts,
bring it in.

My baby sister had just come home
from being locked behind doors with other girls who
were just trying to live up to something,
 just trying to find one moment in which they could feel worthy,
feel alive
feel beautiful.
Our teenage bodies lounged on the floor of her bedroom
till she told me she was scared.
I crawled into her bed,
pulled her bony frame up with me
and she cried.
I held her bones against me, soaking in the stories she couldn’t tell
locking them tight in my story-holder
not knowing, not telling, just sharing

And then there are my stories.
As if there is any room, I have squeezed stories into my story-holding womb
kept them locked like a high security prison believing
these stories should be held, as tenderly as an iron-cage story-holder
with teeth and locks and iron bars can hold them
while ensuring they will never, ever escape.

I hold stories differently now.
I could transform my body into an iron, story-holding vessel
unconquerable, removed, disengaged,
I have that power and
the women of my family have taught me well
but I think I
might need to birth the stories and listen to their cries because
this could be my new beginning
and this
could be
my first step.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Just another body poem

This poem is driving me CRAZY.  It's been wanting to be written for weeks now, and has been written very slowly.  But I think it's done.  I think the flow of it needs a little work, but I'm done with it for now.  Plus, this is the second night I've stayed up past midnight working on it.  It needs to be done.  For now.

Everybody's got a poem about their bodies.  There are so many poems about bodies.  We all get caught up and self-absorbed that way, don't we?  I've written many poems about my body, or parts of it...most of which I don't share.  But here's this one.  It's just another body poem.

I can't decide on a title, because I suck at titles.  I could go with a simple "This Body."  Or "Truthsong."  Or "Crucifixion."  I think I'll go with the one I chose, though.  For now, anyway. 

Or, I could make it long and complicated, like: "Poem to my colleagues on why I don't engage in your negative body-talk."

[Content note: eating disorders, sexual assault]


When women lament their stomach
their thighs
their arms
their right big toe
this body rises, indignant.

This body balks at diet plans.
She will not discuss weight loss goals
or curse the gym time it takes to reach them,
she cares not about:
her water-weight
her muscle mass
her BMI
or the calories in oranges.

This body stretches into downward dog.
She bows in recognition of scarred flesh.
Broken heartstrings. Skin burning for love.
She knows her muscles ache
to remind her they exist:
this body begs to be nurtured
in ways this world forgets to name.
This body will not shame herself.

This body knows the fear of disappearing.
She has seen beautiful fade to bare:
it's a fucking privilege to shame your body
without the weight of others' bones on your flesh.
Tell me how to hate your body as you check her chest for breath.
Laugh about diets, your thighs, your ass,
when you've seen how body eats muscle 'cause there's nothing left.
Tell me how to shame your body when you've thanked god over ounces,
or sat holding a body's relic of hate's aftermath.
Tell me how to shame it then. 
Tell me how to hate it.
Tell me how to love it.

This body has felt eyes and whistles rise like drawn weapons up her neck.
Has been every man's challenge when she closes her doors.
This body has known dark-alley hands with heavy touch,
beer-soaked mouth on lips and flesh,
fear-clenched breath,
back on brick,
lungs that beg for air.
This body has known bruise, bite, bleeding
the empty quake of nothing that erupts into emptiness,
this body has known broken.

I don't know how to praise her.
Was not taught to sing her hymns or speak her gospel,
was trained to hide her goodness, her wholeness, her flesh.
I wear my bodyshame like crucifixion.
Each nail an emblem
of how Woman I can be:
I never learned this body holy
but I know her temple is cells and breath.
Her deity, Truth, worships at her feet
that bless this holy ground,
sing her holy name,
her truthsong is love, only and over again, love,
for she who has carried me through. 
She who is sweat and tightness and stretch.
She who knows how to woman,
to open, to strong,
to soften, to power, to cry
to close, to quake,
to sing, and sing, and sing...

How can I shame this warrior-goddess body
who has only ever wanted
to love me

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The exquisite pain of fighting alone together

I've had a very full day.  A very long, very full, very wonderful day, actually.  And I'm completely overwhelmed.

This morning, I participated in a fundraising walk for a local rape crisis center.  When I saw the fundraiser advertised, I knew I had to do it.  I found an awesome friend to do it with me, I raised $170.00, and I went.  I've done walks before -- I participated in Relay for Life in both college and grad school, and I've staffed tables and raised money for several autism walks.  But this walk was different. 

First of all, it's the only walk I've ever done in heels.  The walk -- called "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes" -- asks everyone (men included) to wear high-heels for the mile-long walk.  With the focus on teaching men not to rape and to be allies for women on this issue, they're asking men to (literally) walk a mile in a woman's shoes.  It's catchy, right?  And, I'll admit, it WAS pretty awesome watching men of all ages totter down the streets in heels -- some with socks, some without, and some with packing tape wrapped around the foot and shoe to keep it on (points for creativity there). 

There were signs, too, of course: "Real men don't rape."  "Rape is a 4 letter word."  "Rape hurts ALL of us."  It was an easy walk on an incredibly gorgeous day.  People came outside to watch us walk by, take pictures of the men in heels, and clap (or, you know, just stare.  That too).  People driving by honked their horns and gave us a thumbs up. 

I had this moment, out in the sunshine, with a big crowd of people all joining together to stand up against this horrific thing that I frequently feel so alone in fighting, when I realized: I'm not alone in this.  This is not a battle we fight only from our individual bedrooms.  This is not a battle we fight only through words on a page going nowhere.  This is not a battle we fight only in moments shrouded with stillness, and silence, and pain.  We can also fight this battle together.  People care about this issue.  People care enough to come, they care enough to walk, they care enough to wear heels for a mileand, when this issue is on the street marching through town, people care enough to agree and to acknowledge us. 

I know this, of course.  I know that there are many, many people who care about this issue.  I know that there are many, many people affected by this issue.  I know that "rape is wrong" is a statement most people can get behind.  But it doesn't feel that way very often.  When you're fighting in the war, it's hard to see that there are people battling alongside you and behind you and in front of you because you're just so focused on making it out of that battle alive. 

And yet...there we were.  Together.  Standing together in the April sun, complete strangers, daring to stand on this issue that we all fight alone.

Tonight, this thought fills me with an exquisite pain that's hard to explain.  It's just so right, you know?  It's's as it should be, and that's beautiful.  For once, it feels like somebody got something right.  For once, it feels like maybe...just maybe...there's hope.  Maybe all the sunshine went to my head, but there is this emotional pain that feels a little bit like a closed heart breaking open -- painful, and beautiful all at once. 

I will be teaching a course at a local university starting in the fall.  Last week, I got an email from a professor/mentor/friend there, who asked if I would be willing to talk with a student about graduate school and answer her questions.  I agreed, and we arranged to meet this afternoon. 

And what an incredible, incredible young woman she is!  She wants to be a therapist, and her passion lies in working with victims of sexual violence.  She currently volunteers 5 days a week as a victim advocate on the overnight shift for a local hospital.  She's going to be travelling abroad to work with victims of sexual violence in a third world country.  You can just feel her open heart and enthusiasm for life exuding from her body, and she hung on every word I said.  I felt completely inadequate in "helping" her (didn't I just graduate from college?  How is it possible that she greeted me as "doctor," and I had to remind her [twice] to call me by my first name?). 

It's overwhelming to feel so looked up to and respected.  How incredible it is to see someone with such passion for working on this issue!  Someone who says it is her "calling," and who is so ready to take on the world.  How amazing it is to feel that I now have some degree of influence over the students I come in contact with -- that I can help them develop plans for their futures, or see where they want to go, or how they can move towards becoming more of the incredible beings they see themselves becoming. 

It's just so right, you know?  It's hopeful, and beautiful, and powerful and right to see this young, empowered woman bursting at the seams with desire to change the world.  To be able to tell her of one possible path, or maybe two -- and then to leave her to make those decisions on her own. 

It's not that I've been depressed, but I've been tired.  I've felt alone.  I've felt overwhelmed.  I feel a tremendous responsibility to give back to the people and places that have helped me; a responsibility to give back to people who know the struggles I have known; and a responsibility to change the face of my profession, given the wrong I have seen done within it.  As the days go by and nothing visible changes, you feel ineffective and you feel tired.  As the days go by and you focus more on getting yourself through them than on lifting others up, you feel tired.  As you see the same problems, and the same arguments, and the same conversations had over and over, you feel tired.  It's crazy-making, and exhausting, and lonely, this fight. 

And then there's a moment when you that you are not alone in these struggles or this fight, that it's not your responsibility to change the whole world, or even your corner of it.  It's your responsibility to get up in the morning.  To walk.  To breathe.  To smile.  To cry.  It's your responsibility to find yourself in the loneliness and to make it through those moments alone.  It's your responsibility to find the moments of connection and to make it through them together.  Such is life.  There is pain in isolation, yes.  But there is pain in connection and community, too.  An exquisite sort of pain.  There is pain in the contrast.  And that pain, in the ways it serves you -- it's right.  It's beautiful, and painful, and right. It will crack you open, and open, and open, and those cracks are painful and hard...but also right.  Also beautiful.  Also exquisite.  It is also part of being alive.  

I guess that's the thing.  I guess that, today, I felt alone, and I felt connected, and I felt whole and wholly cracked open.  And isn't that what it is to feel alive?  What more can one hope for, but to feel alive as we fight alone, together? 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Poem I Love to Hate

After I posted my last poem, along with the disclaimer that it is not a poem I "like," I had several people comment and tell me in person that they like the poem.  Lots of people, even.  Which is cool, but a little weird, considering I always think that there are about 2 people total who read what I post.  It's a rewarding, slightly freaky sort of experience.

I think about this poem a lot -- which is why I have worked, and reworked, and reworked it.  I've worked it so much, in fact, that I have the thing memorized.  I'm not kidding.  I have worked that poem to death.

So it's not, really, that I dislike it.  I mean, I kind of hate it, but it's not a "bad poem." From a pure writing/technical perspective, I've written some terrible poems.  I've written some bad poems.  I've written some good poems.  I've written some kick-ass poems.  This poem -- from the writing/technical standpoint -- it's not a bad poem.  It's not awesome...but it's not bad.  I don't post the bad ones, and this one is, absolutely, one that I feel will not embarrass me as a writer if I let others see it.

I thought for a long time that the issue was that the poem just didn't say what I wanted it to say.  That is, usually, my biggest reason for disliking my work.  It will come right up close to -- within a centimeter, even -- of what I'm trying to say, and just as it is about to touch the very center of the issue, it misses, narrowly, and veers off.  Ooooooh, I get so frustrated when this happens.  It's typically a matter of one word, or one phrase that needs to be turned ever so slightly.  Sometimes I can make this happen...and sometimes I can't.  Sometimes I can't at the moment, but can the next day, or a month, or a year later.  I've learned to be patient with my words: sometimes, they need time to find their way to the surface. 

That wasn't the issue with this poem, though.  The issue with this poem was that, when I read it, there was nothing I wanted to change.  There was no word that stuck out to me as "wrong," no metaphor that was a little off, no line break that needed fixing.  The issue with this poem was that it was whole, it was complete, it was finished -- and I still hated it.  The issue was not with the words, or the form, or the line breaks.  It was not even fixable, actually, without just abandoning the whole thing (which clearly could not be done).  The issue was that I hated the content.  Or rather, the content of this thing that I wrote made me uncomfortable. 

I don't understand how it's possible to surprise yourself with the things you write, but it happens, because I do it all the time.  That's what happened with this poem.  The words fell onto the page, and then I was left to make meaning of them.  And that's where it falls apart for me.  I don't disagree with the content of the poem.  In fact, it's exactly the opposite.  I do agree with the content, which is what makes me hate it.  I wrote it, and I agree with it, and I also hate that I agree with it.  Does that make sense?

First of all, it's incredibly personal.  More personal than I might typically share, really.  This poem contains information that I don't like to talk about, or think about, or even acknowledge.  When I was thinking about writing this, I thought about the really wonderful TED talk I watched recently by Ash Beckham on how we all have "closets" from which we need to come out.  Sharing this poem feels a bit like peeking out of the closet. 

When I told a person close to me about the experience I allude to in this poem -- and particularly about the experience of being told I am "unlovable" -- the response I received was this: "Well, I feel good that at least I know you have the good sense not to believe it."  She looked at my face.  "You don't believe it...right?"
"No," I lied.  "No.  Of course not."  Because what else do you say?  How do you admit to the shame of being called "unlovable" -- and also admit to the shame that you do not have the "good sense" not to believe it?

And it's not that I believe it, per se.  It's that something like this -- once it's been done, it infiltrates your being.  You may not believe it, but it doesn't leave you.  It soaks into your pores so you don't understand, but will do anything to "make sense of the insanity."  So you make up reasons.  You make up excuses.  You find a million things to tell yourself so you can fit this evil inside the body you have to live in.  You want answers you'll never receive to questions you can't necessarily name.  You try to reject it, and you remember that you're still beautiful in that fuchsia dress...and then you forget.  You try to find that one thing to hold on to, and yet also know that you are hanging so dangerously in the balance between moving forward and losing everything.

Second, when I wrote this poem, I was incredibly angry.  I wanted to write an "in your face" poem, rejecting things I had been told in a way that said not only, "I have overcome this," but also added, "and f-you for saying it!"  As I was writing, I thought that was what I was saying.  And then, when I read it -- it wasn't.  When I read it, I heard the voice of someone who was trying to get to that place, but wasn't there.  I heard the voice of someone who is struggling and grappling with those issues, and catches glimpses of the woman who knows Truth and Healing and Wholeness, but is not yet that woman.  And I was disappointed.  I am disappointed.  It feels shameful, that even when I think that kick-ass woman is coming out from inside of me, she's still shrouded in words tinged with insecurity.  It's not a beautiful reality, but it is true.

However, there is an element of the poem that says, "I'm awesome.  I have a vibrant and beautiful soul, and I am uniquely and imperfectly me" -- and this is also true.  I love the image this conjures for me, and it feels right.  This metaphor fits me, which is why I love to hate this poem so relentlessly.  I am that green-eyed, spider-carrying, poem-constructing, too-sensitive, blushing spirit.  I am that fuchsia-wearing, worm-saving, mascara-running soul.  And strangely -- in spite of everything I wrote above -- this is also hard to own.  It is a similar shame-like feeling that arises when I try to embrace this: we are not socialized to embrace our awesome. 

It's hard to hold these two completely dichotomous realities in just one body, and what I hear in this poem is that struggle.  I want it to end entirely differently.  I want it to end with a "hell yeah my soul wears fuchsia dresses, because I'm AWESOME!" feel.  I want you to read it and come away feeling empowered.  I want you to feel that this struggle that so many of us know is going to be victorious.  That we will all don our fuchsia or magenta or lilac or maroon or royal blue dresses and we will go forth and be our unique and imperfect selves with conviction.  I hate the punch in the stomach I feel with those last words -- because I do feel it, strongly.  The fear, and shame, and possibility of "losing everything" both is and is not a metaphorical abstraction.  It is something I feel in my gut -- the fear of losing that fuchsia dress, of never coming out of that closet -- it's real.  It's not beautiful, but it's true.

Lastly, I hate the beginning of this poem.  I have tried so many ways of re-doing it/re-wording it/changing it entirely, cutting out the beginning...and none of it works.  The only thing I can live with is the beginning you see here --- those two simple questions that make up the first stanza are some of the hardest I have ever had to write, and certainly among the hardest I have ever had to share. 

"When you told me I'm unlovable
did you mean I lack the qualities you can love?
Or did you mean
I'm just not worthy?"

I hate those questions.  I hate that they are the first stanza.  I hate that I wrote them.  I hate that they need to be there.

But they do.  They need to be there.  Because, that's the question, isn't it?  Did you mean I am unlovable to you?  Or did you mean I am unworthy of love?  There is shame in those questions, and there is bravery in those questions, and there is rejection of the sentiment in those questions.  I hear all of those things, absolutely.  And I also feel the very uncomfortable stirrings in my heart, telling me that those questions cannot be asked.  But there they are -- I am asking them -- and that feels radical, and frightening, and uncomfortable, and new.  They are not beautiful questions, but they are true. 

And truth is beautiful, just because it's truth, isn't it?  That's why this poem "works," even if I hate it.  It works because it's true.  It works because that arc from unlovable, to kick-ass, to uncertainty is real.  I know it.  You know it.  Naming it, though, and saying it -- pushing past the shame -- that's real.  

May you always be seen and loved in your beautiful fuchsia, or magenta, or lilac, or royal blue souls.  May you find the places where you need to be real, and may you have the courage to live into those places.  May you find the bravery to love to hate the thing that scares and shames you, and may you find what you need to bring that thing to the light.  Blessed be.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It's not beautiful (but it's true)

A number of conversations recently have led me to think about this poem.  (It's kind of conceited to want to quote your own poem in polite conversation, isn't it?  I thought so).  It has been in various stages of writing and reworking for quite some time now, and I'm never happy with it.  I'm still not quite to the "happy with it" point, but it needs to be retired to make way for newer, better work that I CAN write to the point of satisfaction.  I think, in part, I don't like it because I wish I could write the content differently with some sort of Hollywood happy ending...but that won't happen.  And -- when and if that can happen -- that moment deserves its own poem, don't you think?

So here is the poem, in its final resting incarnation.  It's not beautiful, but it is true.

Fuchsia Dress

When you told me I’m unlovable
did you mean I lack the qualities you can love?
Or did you mean
I’m just not worthy?

I know you won't tell me,
I just want to put my nightmares to rest and
find my confident, inner self that's been missing.
I want to know what was in your mind so I
can make sense of the insanity.
Find some reason why this
empty, aching hole is still

It seems like it's time to
tell my soul she can venture out now:
show the world her fuchsia dress because
whether you know it or not
my soul
wears long, fuchsia dresses.

Did you know my soul wears fuchsia dresses?

Not that you care,
but you should know that my soul is
divinely feminine. She
exudes confidence as she
saves worms from the sidewalk after a rain
rescues spiders with her bare hands
crochets dishtowels for fun and
wades in creeks to connect with her god.

This soul flounces her fuchsia skirt as she
rejects conformity.
She stays so strong she
bites her nails and
wipes mascara from under her tear-stained eyes,
this soul
wears fuchsia,
even when she thinks she can’t.  Even
when her body shakes from the injustice of this world
and the rage she can neither name, nor contain,
this soul is imperfect
so I dare you to look at me again and
tell me I’m not loveable.
Touch this fuchsia soul
and tell me I’m not beautiful,
tell me I’m not confident because:

this soul stumbles over words in conversations and
blushes unnatural shades of red.
Her mind is busy with words no one will read and her
too-sensitive heart
shatters and swells and
loves and dies
a little each day as she
attempts to live in a mundane world she’ll never
fit into or understand.
She trips, frequently,
and has feet so rough from walking barefoot
they could sand walls,
this soul wears fuchsia
to let the world see her,
so go on and tell me I’m not beautiful.
Look into the green eyes of this
spider-carrying, poem-constructing,
too-sensitive, blushing spirit
and tell me I
will never be loved 
because if my
fuchsia-wearing, worm-saving, mascara-running soul is truly unlovable--

I just want to let her know
she’s lost