Cold and uncomfortable. Surprising how erotic underwear can feel, when it rides into clefts and tugs against sensitive folds with every shift of weight. Been sitting here for hours, by a chilly window overlooking the Sound. First it was unusually sunny, aberrant blue skies for a Pacific Northwest winter; then a darkening cloud dimly lit by a rainbow; then shades of gray: blue gray water, slate gray clouds, dark gray mountains vanishing in a growing fog. Next the sky was a brilliant blue again, clear and cloudless and raining, with the rainbow thinly visible once more, but closer this time, ending feet from the shore. Now it is dusk, too overcast for a sunset, all deepening blues with the sudden flash of seagull, or the white belly of a seal.
My stomach aches. The usual discomforts: physical pain and sexual craving. Cold. Longing. The Sound looks as if a whale might emerge at any moment, fog and surface turbulence signifying an approaching immensity, the illusion that swimming and flying might entail the same element. Dark is falling all around, the reflections of the Fourth Avenue bridge streetlights stretching dim across the inlet. I watched lights blinking on ships in the distance and suddenly caught sight of my own transparent eye. Cocooned now in mirrors and light.
I thought that I saw him today. We were in a turning lane, facing each other across several feet of asphalt, double panes of slanted glass. He went left; I went right. Our eyes didn’t meet. He looked pained, fiddling with his collar.
Longing is nearly as unbearable as grief. Likely a facet of it. Absence, unremitting absence where what was and what could be, are not.
Why care. Such profound discomfort, the shedding of grasp and hope. There isn’t enough silence in my life to process all this split and passing. Trying to float through it, suspended in the wounded animal of my body as if with fever. I love. I loved. I love. I loved. All gone now. The pulse and paroxysm of loss.
I wish that I were a whale, weightless in immensity, fluid in the arch and curl of my discomfort: I love, I loved; equally at home in depth and levity, breaking the surface of my delusions to float not in the incomprehensible weight of water, but instead the broad and black and blinking light of the night sky.
At the foodbank today I thought I saw someone who, although not a friend, has been a coworker and consistent presence in my life for several years. Another of my ex-husband’s friends. He was a few rows ahead of me, and we all stood and sat, stood and sat, making our way in a sort of numbed ritual through several aisles of metal folding chairs. In moments I was convinced that it was him. In others, from a different angle as he turned to talk to his friend, or as a new and unfamiliar expression slipped over his face, he seemed a stranger.
Having slept little the night before, and now a busy single parent to two, I’d pulled on poorly fitting clothing at the last moment. Lately most of my clothes are poorly fitted, as through the cancer and ever since my weight has steadily dropped. I sat engulfed in denim and flannel, even my hat goofy and oversized, topped with a bi-colored pom-pom. I was not alone; the drab and gray of the foodbank itself sufficiently washed out most attempts at presentability. Few of us had attempted.
I keep dreaming of snakes. Always in water, or near it. Last night a massive python sunning on the shore of a lake left abruptly as I approached; next I surfaced a small snake from a stream and quietly watched as it burrowed into the back of my hand. Other nights, snakes livebirthing, snakes fucking, a writhing mass of snakes on the bed of a tidepool.
During the cancer, I had visions of sea snakes penetrating me to sink their fangs into my cervix. Healed with venom. Most of my healing meditations were taken up with randy parades of fornication: sex with animals, schools of fish, goddesses, the roots of trees. On elbows and knees for bears, the bite and sting of ants and bees, the suck and slap of the ocean itself. Once a one eyed otter, who emerged alongside me in a still pool and fucked a golden ring against my cervix. I have been living in an odd liminal world, a world of death, love, dreams, visions, sex, magic, longing, intimacy, exigency.
Emerging now to a world of foodbanks, divorce, single parenthood, estrangement. All the shakedowns and fallouts of rape.
Earthquake: the core of my life shifted with a sudden jolt, and everything now slightly off. My apartment subtly rearranged; on the wall dusty outlines of missing furniture, in the closets empty spaces where once were my ex’s coats and shoes. Fewer dishes in the sink. Sudden and lasting falls of silence. Familiarity in the features of strangers, and strangeness in the features of the familiar. A failure of music to soothe, of food to appeal. I study my own reflection with pity and bemusement. When did I become that pale, slack, sad ass face? Adorned, no less, with an oversized pompom.
Another painful shedding, a seeking of subterranean warmth as the earth shakes, as cold descends.
I’d know the back
of your head anywhere:
in a darkened theater,
through a pane of glass.
Always you are one among
many: a boisterous crowd
in third row seats,
a circle of people
in a brightly lit room.
My memories of you
are suffused with light.
My child’s first birthday.
My husband’s 38th. Cake
sliced to reveal slick insides,
thick bolts of bright frosting;
tied helium balloons.
I have prepared and
served you food,
our fingers distanced
by the rim of a chipped plate.
Were we to touch
my fingers might themselves
shimmer with warmth.
I have never touched you.
Once you offered me
a ride to the emergency room,
after I swallowed
a shard of glass in a bowl
of seasoned black beans
my husband made me.
Last April, my mother on a ventilator,
my husband in the nuthouse,
I lived with my children in a stranger’s
basement in the City of Roses
(which is to say, strip clubs, bookstores,
long forested trails on the lip
of blown volcanoes, romance,
grief). I dreamed
you took me on a boat
down a slow, wide river.
You sat in a wooden chair and I
pressed my thighs inwards
a balance of offer and tension,
pulse and warmth pervading
the pockets of dark fabric
separating your skin
Your hands, relaxed and firm,
parenthesized my hips
until you reached for a ringlet
of my hair and pressed
it to your mouth.
You kissed my forehead,
my lips, and all
the respirators, roses, strip clubs,
birthday cakes, balloons,
riverbeds and ocean chasms,
blown out volcanoes, mountain
faces, cliff wounds and edges,
crumpled lips, tectonic shifts, estranged
husbands and mental hospitals,
and spread burning bodies
of the universe moved
through us without
grasp or resistance,
pure and clear and whole again.
When I told my therapist
about this dream I cupped
my hands together
to show her the boat,
as if I were preparing to drink
from a stream, proffering
a gift to the inexplicable,
inches from a prayer of
I walked alone past the lit window
of a busy cafe, my denim jacket
insufficient cover to the November
night. Arms wrapped tightly
round my own ribs I suddenly
saw you, close enough to touch
were there no history, compunction,
cold pane of glass.
On the corner I stopped
to watch the moon,
halved in the black bowl
of the sky, shrouded with gray.
I did not turn to see myself,
reflected translucently on
the wings of your shoulders.
Sex is to nothing
as my womb is to god.
Empty sacred space
engendering its own brood of blank.
Ouroboros. Self-feeding nausea.
I choke on cycles of supplication,
songs ululating in reversal, prayer
reverberating back down my throat.
Fold. Collapse. I gag on want, lungs
electrified with hymns to
Why hast thou forsaken me.
Who art thou.
Cold knife in my cunt as I sleep,
spread and scalpel. Incise. Nurses’ skin
under my nails. Strapped.
Suspended in narcotic embrace,
paper gown pumped with warmed air
like breath on my drag body.
Longing, surgically extracted
in a horrorshow of blood. Spread.
Splatter. Baby born dead in a Super 8 toilet
as I puked on cold tile. Shit.
Shiver. Evacuation of bowels, stomach, womb.
Empty. Wake. Wound. Flush.
Blood. Knives. Light. Cracked
ribs and ribbons of blood threading
from my mother’s lips and nostrils.
My mother. Loose welted skin
and featherlight bone. My mother.
Tubes and intubation, punctures and screens,
dialysis. Drips, drag, and draw. Push. Puff.
From this valley they say you are leaving
We shall miss your bright eyes and sweet smile
I sang the song she had sung me,
brushed her thin breaking hair,
her brown eyes popping blind
with terror over hungered breath.
Cartoon hands, sunken skull face.
Jaw dropped open like the dead.
Lungs subsumed with blood and waste.
My mother. Her body a frail weeping bag
of failed or failing organs. Where did she go.
Sometimes I prayed for god to kill me.
My knees neither bent nor buckled.
Unbroken but for the unbearable burden
of grief. My lungs subsumed
with waste and want.
My body a stiff bag of shock and resolution,
unable to fold or open.
Fetus in the pipes. Blood on cold tile.
A cone of cancerous cervix,
the gateway between fucking and life
shriven, bagged, disposed. My final birth.
Alone is a broad valley I can face any horror in. Why
do I long for you. Remove this grotesque wanting.
Scapulae when I need clavicle.
Spine when I need ribs. Space when I need
pressure. Pressure when I need space.
All the wrong bones and distances.
Longing is a ragged road leading
to let down. Want to more want.
A guarded crossroads of revelation.
To pant or to part. Always apart.
Space the divinity. Panting after god.
Pockets of hot wet breath between flesh and flesh.
Sweat. Spit. Slapping skin. Spreading angles
and planes of bind and yield, fusion and friction,
hairs tearing loose from follicles.
Only fucking drives away death,
fills the divinity of empty, all wet holes
plundered and plugged. Microtears. Abrasions.
Minibleeds and human papilloma virus,
magic cancer dust persisting past the terminus
of our marriage. You raped me and I miss you.
I am perilously unafraid of shadows.
Plug me with the moon. I am cold,
dust, revolving, pulling the oceans over
my goosebumped skin like a blanket,
calling wombs to weep blood at my swelling.
I reflect the bereft burn and bright of the sun,
a borrowed glory of grief. I seek shadow,
illuminate cracks and crevices,
line hollows with layers of velvet dark.
I beam cold glow hunger to the hunters.
Light safety and succor to the prey. Prayer.
You raped me and I am not the moon.
The trees speak to me. My body enveloped
with pain that I name pools, glimmer,
rocks rubbing against grasping root.
I am inseparable from the grounded
world. Dirt and grind. Sedimented bone
and calcified longing. Glaciers of grief
ground through mountains, searing wounds,
weeping lava and lump. Germination.
Reach. Unfolding. Offer. Budding and bask.
The universe an expanding bag
of collapse. Galaxies of inexplicable
streams of matter, pulse and pulsars,
skeins of time winding, unwinding. Snap.
My mother. Her body a tiny
lost thread. Unravel. Her heartbeat
a pin drop in vast space.
Mine too. Yours too.
Ours and ours and ours,
always alone, always ending.
Laying in a steaming bath, half drunk, after an afternoon of vicious cleaning.
Quick and hard: the cancer is all out. Fought the nurses going down and coming up, and apparently bled like a horrorshow. Had a brief interlude in the nuthouse. Dreamed beautiful and terrifying Llyncilla dreams. Made two friends, whom promptly dispersed and disappeared. Pray for life and freedom for both. Refused the hysterectomy. Was told that the cancer would just keep coming back. Killed my longing, or tried to. Left my husband.
Scoured and reorganized my fridge from top to bottom. Threw out liquefying vegetative remains. Listened to deep women sing sad songs. Drank red wine. Cried. Folded and put away clothes. Femme clothes to the left, butch clothes to the right. Socks, boxers, panties, and sports bras unceremoniously stuffed into a flowered duffle bag. Prepped the oven for tomorrow’s scrubbing.
“when leaps of faith/ become shots in the dark”
Facing down the dark with guns fucking blazing.
Last May I drove my partner and children up to the Cascades to stay in a little Airbnb condo alongside the Nooksack River. We’d left Olympia late; my fibromyalgia had flared up, and it was my first time home since leaving in April to care for my mother in a specialty hospital in Portland. My partner and I had recently reunited after a painful separation, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go at all. But we went, and thus by nightfall were still driving on rural highways threaded through mountains in the dark.
An owl broke the treeline and hurled itself across the windshield. I hit the brakes and clapped my hands over my eyes, sucking in my breath. Having made only the barest audible feather contact, the owl vaulted into the mountainside and vanished. We came to a full stop and sat stunned in the middle of the road, headlights tunneling steady into darkness.
In August came the raven, who visited not only the tree immediately outside my bedroom window, but the tree in the backyard as well. It made droplet noises at me as I watered the roses. Inbetween raven visitations, my partner dreamed about a black dog.
In February my mother’s colon randomly twisted; she went into septic shock and cardiac arrest in my bathroom. May, during our separation, my partner was hit by a car. July came my bad pap exam, August the unsuccessful LEEP, September the nervous overniceness of the nurse and doctor as it sank in that the cervical abnormalities were not an early or easy fix. Two kinds of carcinoma, extensive abnormalities, positive margins, biopsy to confirm malignancy. Radical hysterectomy, chemo, radiation. A few days prior my stepmother informed me that she had stage 3 colon cancer, with no preceding symptoms.
For months, I sat with my mother as she lay in a semi-concious state between living and dying. I watched her oscillate between the two, the minutest of her expressions and movements articulating a path that led to possible recovery, or impending death. Her eyes widened when she saw me: life. Her eyes closed when I showed her a picture of herself with her grandchild, laughing: death.
I did not then and do not now understand what happened to the person who was my mother. I watched her die; her last choked breath; it was my hands bearing bone down against her motionless heart. I saw her later return to something like life, and die and die and die again. And then one day she walked onto a plane and flew home, and I can’t explain that either.
I have come to clearly understand that I don’t know anything, except for some things that can’t be adequately evoked in words. I sat beside her dying and held her hand, and as I sat my own dying divided and multiplied, divided and multiplied, blooming in me.
I asked my therapist what the fuck is going on, and she said to look inside myself and ask. And I did, and what I saw was a tree, an enormous tree as tall and wide as the universe. That’s what’s going on, she said. The answer is the tree.
What the fuck, with all this death? The tree of life, that’s what. Natural, normal, unavoidable. Attended by all the wisdom and oneness of the cosmos. Death is what makes life possible.
And facing all this death is its own kind of dying.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”
For several years I have known- in the way I that I know whom I love or how to move my hip in response to a bass note- that I am dying. I wasn’t sure if it was metaphorical; I’m still not. Maybe the oscillations my mother made between living and dying are the same we all make, everyday a microscopic birth, a microscopic death, both living and dying ultimately composing us, the way a tree gathers and integrates nutrients from the dead throughout its lifted limbs.
As my step mother begins chemo, I wonder which way her body will align; if, once poisoned, she will be cellularly distributed more towards dying than living. She will not talk of death, nor cancer. She walks routinely by the river I grew up alongside.
I think of death and cancer often. Cancer is a part of me, a longing, a regret, a mistake once made that cannot be unmade. It is easy to see my own failings in. I don’t believe that I can sift through the living in me and the dying in me and choose to embrace only the living. I am rooted with both, embody both, love both. I will submit myself to knives and dreamless sleep, to poison and mutilation, to sickness and pain in order to live longer. Especially for my children. But not to “beat” death, to “beat” cancer. Just to dance longer, and see what happens.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
The first thing that I wanted to write about after my baby was born was, predictably, the birth. I never imagined that I would write, on thanksgiving of all days, from a seaside island apartment in Georgia, nearly five months after the event– the cleaving, the bloodied imparting, the tearing asunder and breath shocked abruption of beings– about grief.
Perhaps it is less about grief and more about murder. Immolation. The worlds I lost, the selves I killed. Assumptions violently shed. On bad days still I see my body bathed in blood. Only the name I gave myself and the burden of accumulated losses cloaking what is– must be– the illusion of self. Kill it. And again. And again. Irrevocable losses- strip them of meaning, if not potency. Crush. Mine. Remake. Destroy.
The ocean is a mirror for the vast tumult of loss inside my own wrecked heart. Despair sweeps, changes diapers, microwaves tv dinners, feeds itself. I am neatly kept, I keep neatly. I have lost all my sharp edges, collapsed into wobbly flesh and bruised shadow. Suddenly I am old, wearing every pinch and frown. I look to the sea. Seemingly it holds everything. I will too, I resolve.
Skinned thinner than tendon, tighter than my breath. Time framed in contractions, slicing spasms of pain. I pick up my feet. Slip deep into mindless movement. Watch a strip of light curve slowly across the wall. I will too. Stretch. Breathe. Arc. Die.
I focus on the curve of each line, the arc and bleed of ink. Over and over, the same word. Prayer comes to me uninvited- hallowed be thy name. On earth as it is in heaven. With both hands I lifted him from the water black with shit and blood. I cracked open with the miracle of him. I whispered his name over and over in the dark. Incantation. Invocation. This one lived. His heart beats. Mine, still, too.