Open Hands and Silence

Poetry by someone who cannot write poetry.

Hide and Seek Champion of the World

When we were kids, my sister would hold her breath as the L train passed a cemetery. It wasn’t superstition, she said, that the dead would steal her soul away. She said it was a gesture of respect.

There’s something in the air in this town. I wake up two inches shorter than I was when I went to bed. Every day, the walls are higher. The furniture growls and bares its teeth. It backs me into corners.

My lover drives past a cemetery and touches her forehead, then her lips–a gesture of respect– and my sister and I aren’t kids anymore. Tonight in another city, my sister is with a client who’ll pay her to pretend he takes her breath away.

We remember running to wedge ourselves into the back of the coat closet, racing the count and the inevitable warning. “Ready or not!” The point of hiding was always to confirm our hope of being sought. We look at pictures of ourselves as children and doubt the truth of what we see. Were we ever so small? I see an image of myself three years ago and shake my head. I was never, I was never so tall.

Two hundred fifty miles from the city where I grew up, I try to hold my lover as we kneel on the bedroom floor. My arms are too short now to wrap around her. She tells me she’s too tired to live anymore and I should leave her. I should leave her. I should leave. I can’t tell whether this is happening now, or last night, or tomorrow, or tomorrow–

I read somewhere that humans are bio-luminescent. Simply by living, we emit a soft light we take with us wherever we go. I am small enough now to fit under the bed comfortably. A place to hide. A place to be looked for in. Our light is a thousand times weaker than our own eyes can see. Here in the dark I realize: if I had no light left, I would never know.

the thing says hi it says let’s play a game it says are you hungry or are you nauseous it says your heart is racing and you can’t breathe find the threat and fix it you have thirty seconds go go go it says go it reaches something that’s not a hand in to my chest
and squeezes
and it says there is nothing you can do though that’s the game that’s
the game

the thing says hush the thing says don’t the thing says
don’t cry
the thing says
now I know
the thing says it’s okay it says
quiet quiet quiet

I ran into used-to-be-me the other day on my way to a gallery opening. I hoped she wouldn’t recognize me, but she caught my eye. “Going this way?” she said. “So am I.”

Used-to-be-me had half an inch of dishwater blonde showing at the roots of her red hair and was under-dressed for the cold. We’re like each other that way. She asked me what I’m up to even though she knew I dread the question. Maybe she hoped I don’t anymore. “Oh, you know. Rolling along,” I said. I’m rolling along a lot these days. It seems less dishonest than saying I’m fine or I’m good and it’s less humiliating than giving out details. She asked what I’m working on. I told her “Nothing right now.” Right now is a useful set of words because it implies I’ll be doing something else soon or I was doing something else recently. I asked my Uber driver last week what he does when he’s not driving. It’s my go-to for avoiding awkward silence, but he went quiet anyway. Then he said, “This is all I’m doing right now.” I could’ve hit myself.

Used-to-be-me wanted to know if I’d finished the play she’s working on. I knew she’d be disappointed, but she didn’t seem surprised. She still asked me all the questions I hate to answer– the ones that make me duck my father’s texts and phone calls. No, I’m not writing much of anything. No, no progress on grad school and please don’t read between the lines and realize I’m not sure if I want to do that anymore. Yes, my relationship’s fine. No, I still don’t want to talk about the details. I waited for her to lecture me the way he does. She went quiet. Then– “It’s okay,” she said.

I would have taken a lecture.

I didn’t have to ask her any questions. I knew what she was writing and how she was doing. She hadn’t hit the point of almost failing out her last year after being an A student yet. She hadn’t lost most of her friends just from pushing them away. I didn’t need tell her it was coming. She’s smart. She could figure it out.

I saw a lot of old acquaintances at the opening, people I hadn’t seen in almost a year. One was a wonderful young woman who I remember as always having a good word for everyone. I asked her what she was up to, wondering whether she dreaded the question as much as I do. Things were going well for her. She works for our alma mater now, she told me. She’s a community outreach coordinator. And what about me? I told her I work for Hy Vee. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Before used-to-be-me and I parted ways, she asked me– “So do you miss me?” she asked me. She had a wry smile already in place, thinking she knew the answer, thinking it wasn’t going to hurt because she wasn’t going to let it. Used-to-be-me doesn’t think anyone would miss her. Used-to-be-me is pretty sure no one thinks of her at all when she’s not in the room. We’re like each other that way. When I opened my big mouth and told her, she got this look, like it was the saddest thing she’d ever heard.

“Yeah,” I said. That’s what I said. “Yeah. I do. I do.”

I Aten’t Dead

I’m going to try something new.

As some of you may have noticed, I went pretty much inactive without warning and stayed that way for a long time. There has been a slow evolution of how I write and how I think about my writing since I started posting it publicly. Over time, I have grown even more anxious and self-defeating than I was to begin with, and one thing I know for sure is this: at some point, I started being more concerned about whether what I wrote was “good” than whether it was honest. As I gained followers, I became more and more self-conscious about what I was posting, and the harder I tried to write things that were “good”, the less honest and–of course–the less genuinely good they became. I have never been a reliable judge of the quality of my own work, but I know when I’m putting together words to sound pretty and not to say something.

Here’s the thing: I think (I’m pretty sure? I hope?) that most of you are here because of the things I wrote when I was opening a goddamn vein and letting the poison out. Please don’t think I’m condemning editing pieces and spending time on them. I’ve written a whole lot of honest things I didn’t post because I knew they needed work, or they weren’t interesting, or they were simply, objectively bad. Still, to me there’s no point to working on something if it wasn’t genuine in the first place.

I would dearly love to come back and start posting on here again, and I will–but I need to spend some time writing things that no one is going to see. I have to re-learn what my voice sounds like after all this time. I doubt it’s the same as it was a few years ago. I will be, however, slowly but surely coming back. I’ll be posting more prose along with the poetry because–Well, partly because I’ve been trying way too hard at the poetry thing and it’s showing, but also because this is my blog and I wanna. So there.

I keep thinking of a blog post author Libba Bray wrote in 2014 from the depths of a major depressive episode. “This is all I know to do,” she wrote.

This is all I know to do.

All my life, stringing words together has been the only way I’ve been able to hold onto myself in times and places when everything seemed to be trying to erase me. I feel like I’ve lost that. You guys, I can’t write anymore. It scares the living shit out of me. Today is also the anniversary of Terry Pratchett’s death–the author behind the title of this post and also a man without whom I would not be the person I am today–and he wrote that the point of a balloon is to teach small children that “there are times in life when people must know when not to let go”. I lost of my share of balloons when I was little, but I guess I didn’t learn my lesson. I forgot that if you want something to stay, you have to treat it as if it won’t. I let go.

Though I don’t know where I intend to go from here, I’m not fucking okay with that.

So. I want to thank all of you that are still here to read this (even if it’s just because you were too lazy to go through and get rid of the inactive writers on your follow list. I feel you.). Thank you for giving me your time. I hope one day to deserve it. I also want to at least endeavor to explain myself (which I have done) and tell you that–while it may not be quite the same as it’s been–I’m coming back. All my love to all of you. You’re worth it.

Breakup Letter to the Edge

We never said a real goodbye; you realize that? You’re not the type to need closure. That was always me. You’d tell me things don’t have neat endings. You can’t just move on, you’d say. Everything leaves a mark. I’d say I know, I know; it just would be nice, you know?

Nice, you’d say. “Nice” isn’t for you and me.

I used to count the days since we last touched. I don’t do that anymore. You made me feel like nothing else. God, nothing in the world makes me feel the way you did–open to the whole world with all my secrets bared to light and safe behind steel walls three feet thick at once. Strong. Like nothing could touch me. Nothing I couldn’t take but being without you. I miss you some days.

I think of you.

You told me I would always come back to you, and often as not I’d agree with you. Probably will, I’d say, but it’s the principle of the thing. You didn’t answer that; you didn’t have to. Sometimes I’d deny it, but I didn’t learn to not reply at all, until I did. I guess I did. I don’t remember the last time we spoke. I think of you. Maybe I’ll always think of you.

You touched parts of me that never should have seen the light of day. You knew me so fiercely. I wept from places I didn’t think tears could come, thicker than water, leaving stains I can’t wash out. You knew me, but you were never good for me. I think of you. Some winter nights I’ll walk the streets of our old haunts and feel your ghost over my shoulder.

I’ll step wrong on the ice.

Baby, when that happens, I’ll reach up and strike the wind chimes hanging from a bare branch and let the music follow me home. You’re with me. You’re the broken glass crunching under my heel on the corner of Minvera and Marquette, stuck to the wall with blue poster tack above my partner’s desk. I’ll be buried with you. You’re written on my skin. I think of you.

You made me feel like nothing else. I’ll never feel that way again. Thank god. Thank god I’ll never feel that way again.

December in Iowa

These days the nights are longer.
After work I wash sap from my hands,
and the cemetery’s bright with Christmas lights
that shine for dear departed,
and for me
when I walk home.
I know my way in the dark.
I feel the weight of my steps
and the thud thud thud
of my bag on my hip
out of time with the beat
of my heart and the tug
of the tide when the moon rises over Lake Michigan
and I am not there to see it.
These days I reach for memories
of longer nights than these,
of washing blood down the sink.
I unlock an empty apartment,
call it home.
I clench my teeth and breathe the cold.
I call it home.
I think of all those lights among the graves.
We set ourselves alight for things that leave us.
We burn to ash for things we leave behind.

Penelope

Last night I dived
one million lifelines below the churning waves.
The bones I found could have been anyone’s.
I woke before I learned.
I had to breathe.

And they say,
“Let go.” They say, “Move on.”
They say, “I hate seeing you like this.”
All day at the loom,
I don’t look in mirrors anymore,
and brush stray threads from my hair.

When you return, I know
you will not spare five minutes
for ten years of what I have undone for you.
I know you’ve fought your monsters. I have watched.
I see them in my sleep.

And you would rather tie yourself to the mast for siren voices,
you would rather call yourself No-one
than hear me say the name I gave you.
Every night, I tear apart the progress I have made.
Every morning, I wake alone, and back at where I started.

They say your silence is too loud;
they say your shadow is heavy enough to hold me down.
They ask whose shroud I’m really weaving, but I wait.
I weep.
I watch you from the shore.

When the young man in the four-door calls me a whore and laughs in my face

Underneath the asphalt of this street,
there is black soil. There is rock
and fire. Mother, in years gone by we called to you.
Weariness has pooled in my shoulders.
I am a changeling of the glass-and-concrete kingdom.
I cannot speak your language of earth
and moon
and blood.
I have not known you.
Mother, I need you now.

Daughter, open your eyes.
Daughter, clench your fists.
You are fire, you are rage, you are stone.
Daughter, you are adamantine.
Break him over your knee and do not flinch.

Mother, I have swallowed my tongue,
carved crescent moons into my palms.
I have bled with the flow of the tide.
I have filled the ocean with salt water and endured,
endured,
endured.
I cannot be patient anymore.

He is not worthy of your patience.

Mother, my anger has worn me to the bone.
Mother, grant me steady hands.

If he puts his hands on you, daughter,
rip his throat out with your teeth.

And if I fail?

And if I fail?

Come home still, daughter of the moon.
Spring comes again.
Return.
Return with the tide.

Hourglass

This is where we wait,
where quiet
drowns the loudest sounds,
unrelenting
as the song of summer cicadas–
the song we lost
to the silence–
and we pass the time forgetting
and forgotten.

This is where we wait,
where breathing in
each other’s breaths
will keep us standing long enough
to fall.
We fail to estimate the distance
between our hands.
We wait for wind.

Here is where we wait,
where centuries of sand sift down above us,
where the weight of memory and music wears us thin.
This is where we wait,
no other place.
Time and silence bury us.
Love holds us down.

There are locked rooms, she says, and no one gets in and she doesn’t have a lock pick. She says you need a lock pick; what she means is give me the key. There are locked rooms where the sunlight doesn’t go and they’re piled high with books, every one of them, and poems and songs and scripts and pages of pencil drawings until you can’t see the walls or the floor. There are locked rooms in the dark with one ghostlight shining on an empty stage where nobody comes and nobody sings or speaks or dances. Not tonight. Not ever. Not tomorrow and they never will. What she means is give me the key. Give someone the key. There are cobwebs in the corners of locked rooms and there are no books and no dusty stages or lights, just a child on her knees with her face in her hands on the dirty linoleum–and she’s crying stop it stop stop but no one can hear her. Three people who love her can hear but they don’t care. No one gets in. There’s nobody there. Not even a little girl. There’s everything. Open the door and it could be anything. Better. And isn’t it strange how nobody knows? And isn’t it strange how I don’t know? And aren’t those my own long-fingered hands with splinters under bloody fingernails, beating at locked doors? Aren’t those my hands, still and quiet? And whose hands are looking for the key to those rooms now? Who knows where it is? Locked locked lost.

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