Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Small

Small

There are so many ways of dying to
believe yourself alive.
Bottles meet lips
fists meet wall
blades meet skin
food meets mouth - or doesn't -
fingers move to back of throat.

And when I wake, my body begs me
for a second chance.
Always too small and too
large for this world, I have only ever wanted to
bring myself to life.
To breathe inside this skin without
the ghosts who try to live here:
there is a constricting spaciousness in silence that
shrinks me smaller until I am
nothing - this physical body is too large,
takes up
too much
space --
this place of small is
familiar and
gives the ghosts the space they need to
inhabit this too-much, this
not-enough, this --

I wonder if
impossibility
is the only way I know to love myself.
Wonder if the only way I can be small
enough is by not
speaking, 
ridding myself of heart or
brain or
body, I let the
ghosts fill my empty spaces.

There are so many ways of dying to
keep yourself alive.
Shaking voice forms truths too
holy for silence, too
holy for speaking.
Coded tongues drop words from
bitten lips:
oh, Impossible One --
there is courage here
even when
everything 
shatters.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The one with all the signs

Lately, I find myself feeling as though I am standing on the edge of a precipice.  In many ways, I feel I have spent a long time standing on such ledges, looking over, and out, and down, and wondering how and where I would be going next.  I have spent so much time frightened and unsure, and convincing myself that I am strong, and present, and brave.  It was January 2014 that I first made the intention to myself to be brave.  While I told myself that intention was only a year, that intention never left.  That word has been my word for three years.  How desperately I have tried to learn it, to move into it, to embrace it.  How often it has exhausted me, pushed me past what was healthy or right.  And how I have also lived that word.  I have lived every ounce of life out of that word in these three years.

And I know that because it is no longer my word.  As I was driving yesterday, I was realizing how small the word sounds to me now.  In the face of the battles I have fought this year, in the face of the battles we as a nation are moving into, in the face of the questions that are rising in me, the word "brave" is simply no longer large enough.  The trepidation and anxiety and resolution I used to feel within that word are gone.  It is just a word, now, tapped of the power it once held.

I arrived on this thought in a roundabout way: I was thinking about poetry, and about words, and about my favorite word.  My favorite word is "vast" because it is such a small word that sounds so large, just like its meaning.  It creates this enormity of space in my chest when I say it that makes me feel like I blend with the universe in all its exquisite vastness.  (I love the word exquisite, too, because it sounds like fancy curlicues.  And this is why I'm a poet).   

Anyhow, this led me to feel this....this feeling of being on the precipice.  I am applying for a leadership conference and one of the three essay questions is "what question are you currently holding about your life or vocation?"  This process of answering these questions right now is so exactly what I need.  This process of discernment, of questioning, or breathing into the place of no answers to find the true question -- this is where the bravery has brought me.

Because right now, like many in this country, I feel angry, and lost, and disheartened.  As I wrote in my last poem, there are so many questions I cannot answer.  I sent an email to a former colleague -- someone older and wiser than myself, telling her that I am disillusioned with our colleagues and our field.  "Where the hell are we?" I asked her. "What are we doing?  Are we all wrapped up in our ivory towers of academia, too busy writing articles to come out and talk about matters of importance?  We are in a position to do so much social good, to make strong statements and take strong positions on matters of social justice based on what we know, and we don't. If we do not find a way to speak, aren't we failing our clients and our profession?"

I don't expect to hear from her.  I have spent so long looking for, searching for someone to be the person who will guide or mentor or show me a way through this.  This person is not coming.  S/he is not here, and attempting to live into the word brave did not stir me to action.  It was not big enough.

A few months ago, in the midst of a total, crying, messy breakdown, I had something happen that had happened to me once before.  It's something that could make firmly agnostic me believe in God, if I were prone to such things: I heard a voice.  Not an external voice like Morgan Freeman voice of God moment.  Like, just WOAH.  There's that voice.  Like happened that one time before when I was sitting at that stoplight in Ohio.  And the voice said, "what if you are the one you have been waiting for?"

Fast forward to yesterday.  I'm driving to church, and these things happened in rapid succession:

(1) As I was thinking about what I want to say in that essay, and about all of the unanswered questions inside me, and about this uncomfortable place I am in, and about how painful change is, and about how bravery is too small, and about how I love the word vast, I heard that voice again - so clear, and definitive, and not my voice, and it would be creepy as hell if it was saying something weird, but it's not, it said the same thing -- it said, "you are the one you are waiting for."

(2) I looked down at my forearm, my hand grasping the steering wheel, and realized the reason I have not gotten the tattoo I desperately want is because I have been imagining it wrong.  I don't want the words on my back.  I want them where I can see them.  I need them where I can see them.  I need it on my forearm.   

(3) The inevitable panic of "YOU CAN'T GET A VISIBLE TATTOO" set in, and I squashed it.  This body is mine and I want to find out what it's like to live it, to own it, to inhabit it fully and completely.  I am the one I have been waiting for. 

I arrived at church, sat in the parking lot, sketched out the tattoo, and walked inside.

It's not that I believe in signs, but the service was asking the question: "What is the light that you have to offer the world?" "What does the world stand to lose if you hide your light?"  I laughed, because -- seriously?  And then I cried, because -- seriously?  And it just was.  This is how the universe is playing right now.  Throwing me ALL of the signs.  

When I was in college, way back when I was a junior in 2005, I had to read one of Ana├»s Nin's books for my humanistic and existential psychology class.  Either in the book, or in the class, or in my reading about Nin, I encountered the quote, "And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."  I wrote it in the front of my notebook.  And since 2005, I have loved that quote.  I can't quite explain the way that quote just has been me and my life in so many ways -- or the ways I have hoped it would be, sometimes.  I have written that quote in journals, on my skin, in the fronts of books.  I have doodled it, zentangled it: it made 19 year old me feel hopeful.  It gave 24 year old me something to believe in.  It gives 31 year old me a sense of vastness, of blossoming, of expansion.

That quote is, of course, too much to say in a tattoo, unless you're going big.  So this is what I said instead.  This is the other side of all the bravery.



 The handwriting and overall design are mine.  The swirly design is found, but the words, the writing, the design -- it is mine.  On my body.  Turns out, I was the one I was waiting for. 

I wrote a poem last night that I will not share in its entirety -- but I will share the end, because I think it speaks to that place of precipice-standing -- to the risk, and the vastness, and the blossoming.

"...the light of my self cracks this body
open, leaving
broken wholeness in the wake of
destruction.  This body is not object.
Not function.  Not space to be filled or claimed.  It is
promise - vast and private, like
the whisper of dawn
just before it breaks
into morning."

There is so much that lies before us, as we stand here -- teetering on this precipice.  What if this is the day when the risk to blossom outweighs the risk of remaining tight in a bud?  Or maybe not the day, but a day?  One of many days, perhaps, when we make that choice?  What if we are the ones we have been waiting for?  What if this vast and private whisper is not destruction, but the promise-filled darkness of dawn?

I don't have answers -- but now, have a permanent reminder to risk the questions as they break into morning.




Monday, December 5, 2016

On questions and capes: A poem about post-election survival

On questions and capes: A poem about post-election survival


The cashier at the pharmacy verifies my name, address, date of birth,
looks me over and says, "Solomon, huh?
Is that Jewish?"

It is 3 weeks after the election.
We are standing in a Walgreens in a blue state
across the corner from where the
high school kids stood on election day with signs reading,
"build that wall" and "Hillary for Prison." We are
down the road from the Starbucks where I was lectured on
how young people will be the downfall of society because
we don't know any better, and up the street from the
house with the Confederate flag painted in its garage, from the
Trump sign that lights up in the dark, from the
pick-up truck with two Confederate flags flying off the back above the gun rack, from the
Safeway where men followed me to my car, tried to get in after me, where I
did not buy from the Kosher for Passover section because
a man in a Trump hat was in the aisle with me spouting ignorance and now I
wonder
why I am standing in Walgreens
trying to answer this question as
my mouth goes dry.


*****
Dr. Laura?
If Donald Trump is president, will he hate me?


Dr. Laura?
When Donald Trump runs the world, will he make people be cannibals?
Will they eat people with autism first?


Dr. Laura?
Is it okay to worry about Donald Trump?
Sometimes I can't sleep because I worry about him, like, about what he might do to my family.


Dr. Laura?
Will it be the end of the world when Donald Trump is president? 


Dr. Laura? 
Can I be a superhero and save the world from Donald Trump?  Sometimes I imagine that.


Dr. Laura?
I don't know how to be a superhero. 
I tried to fly once, but
I just falled down.


*****
Each session feels like a Bingo card of heartbreak:
a unique pattern of life on the margins.
I find newfound fear as the day's
headlines flash by.


Session 1:
White single father with mental illness raising teenage son with
disabilities on the Eastern Shore has to give up
a day of work to wait
for Medical Assistance transportation.


Session 2:
Muslim woman in hijab has twins with autism, works
nights to support them, about to lose her job due to
inability to find child care.


Session 3:
Non-English speaking, immigrant mother with
intellectual disability raising child with autism.


Session 4:
Black lesbian grandmothers, one with cancer, one an immigrant, raising
child with multiple disabilities on
food stamps in section 8 housing with a history of
multigenerational trauma.


Bingo.


*****
I receive an email:
"I don't understand why you're so upset.
Now is the time to send love and prayers and compassion."


I fire off a response:
"Fuck your prayers.
Now is the time to fight for the superheroes flying
across the margins."


*****
I feel so small in the face of the
resilience I sit across from.

What privilege it is to feel
shell-shocked and
curl into my
white, lesbian, half-Jewish shell when all day I
sit with people who only had a quarter shell to start with and it
leaks when it rains.



*****
Dr. Laura?
I was teaching my son to ride the bus.
He was going to do it himself.
Should I let him?  I'm scared.


Dr. Laura?
I want him to be able to work
but I don't know what people will say.
Have you seen all these hate crimes?


Dr. Laura?
He runs away from me in public.
He hugs strangers, he's
a grown man now.
A 14-year-old black boy.
What do we do?

Dr. Laura?

****
I spend days telling myself I cannot do this.
I cannot find my breath.
I ask myself: what if the next person you meet is the one the world is waiting for?
I give everyone capes in my mind so they are
flying as I
learn to ask the questions that will
imagine our survival.

//


Note: All clients portrayed above are fictionalized and/or composites of actual clients I see/have seen.