Open Hands and Silence

Poetry by someone who cannot write poetry.

I don’t know if this is a poem, but I’m lying here shaking and I hope you can forgive me for all the unfinisheds.
I hope you can forgive me for the silence and the broken promises and the assurances.
If I know anything, I know I’m not done making mistakes yet.
I hope you can forgive me.
I can’t. Not tonight.

Heart

this is poetry and I have a choice:
here’s my heart
and it’s either a lion or a scared rabbit
this is a poem (maybe) about my heart and I get metaphors for brave
or one thousand words for “soft” but the truth is
lions aren’t brave
no more than rabbits are you wouldn’t run either
if you were four hundred and twenty pounds of teeth
and claws and muscle
and if you were four pounds of fur and twitchy ears you’d freeze
just like I do see the truth is
my heart is an organ
pumping blood through my body
it’s all just blood and bones and tissue
it all yields
if this is a poem about me then I am not brave
if this is a poem about you then I hope that you are
if this is a poem about anything else under the sun
I am not fit to write it now or ever
not when everything I am made of yields
pick your metaphor or take the literal but it yields
I yield
I give in all right I cannot save myself with words
neither rhyme nor ruin can save us when there is nothing in me
that cannot be broken

I.
When you were ten, you raised you chin and dried your eyes,
nodded when your father touched your shoulder
and called you Lightning Rod.
Both feet on the ground, you clenched your teeth and swallowed the storm.
By twelve, your footsteps turned sand to glass.

II.
By sixteen, rubies and pearls fell from your lips when you spoke.
You held them out in your cupped hands.
People called you a treasury and picked through your words,
looked away from the lines on your palms.

III.
By twenty-two, you’ve stopped talking,
learned to spot the hopes that fall from people’s pockets.
You dig your fingers into the flesh of your inner thigh–
terra incognita.
You are a hostile climate, uninhabitable.
They draw maps and do not return.
You tried to tell them stories of time and changing seasons.
For weeks, they wore the diamonds you choked on.

IV.
They wear glass beads and ruby rings.
When lightning strikes a tree or a child,
you tell yourself they shouldn’t have been out in the rain.
You tell yourself they miss you when you go away,
and watch them deck themselves in pearls.
You come with bright things in your open hands,
take nothing and leave no empty space when you are gone.
They miss the jewels, the stones, the simple things.
Never the voice.
Never the hands.

Final TweetsThe first thing I did was Google it. If it was a hoax, some kind of sick joke, someone would have spotted it and called it out–probably with a headline beginning with “Don’t Worry, Guys”–and it would be all right. The world would turn on as it should. There was no such headline, though, and no such person. “terry pratchett dead” only turned up more articles like the one I had just read, no one told me not to worry, and the world became a little darker. A cloud moved over the sun, and stayed. We will have to be content with less light now.

I did not gasp, or weep, or shake my fist at the sky. I looked at my partner across the room. “So…Terry Pratchett’s dead.” My mouth was dry. They made a little noise between a gasp and a cry. “Yeah,” I said. We sat in silence. There was nothing else to say. He has always said everything so well.

Later, when they left to run errands and I was alone in the apartment, I read more. I read the announcements coming in, the things people were saying about the man who had meant so much to all of us. And what they said–what I saw–were stories. They told stories. We…told stories. We repeated his words, the ones we had learned by heart, and we wrote our own. We wrote about Death, his own beloved anthropomorphic personification of our fears, and how he had come to Sir Terry Pratchett in his last hours. Speaking as he always had, in ALL CAPS WITH NO QUOTATION MARKS, Death had spoken to him, gently, respectfully. He greeted Death as an old friend, and they went together into the dark.

Then I allowed myself to cry–ugly, unpretentious sobs. No less than he deserved. Sir Pratchett told us–told me–that stories matter, and we believed him so entirely that we knew no other fitting way to say goodbye to him. We want to believe that Death really did come for him, his own Death that we have all secretly hoped will come for us when it’s our turn, and that the end was peaceful and dignified. We tell the story because stories are still our best way of making sense of the senseless. We tell it because we don’t know that it’s not true. We tell it because it is, because we tell it. He had been there for me–for us–when we most needed him, taken us by the hand when we were lost and told us that the story has rules, the story has strength, that the story will go on even when everything conspires to destroy it. That we are part of it, and you are part of it, and I. That we keep it alive in the telling. Even if everything is dark and terrible, even if we can’t see the good, it matters that we believe it exists. “It matters,” he told us, taking our shaking hands in his. “It matters.”

I’m crying now as I write this. It’s not enough. It’s not enough, and I never said thank you. I’ve said nothing about how his characters gave me things to aspire to, and to fear becoming. I’ve said nothing about the dry absurdity that made my mother laugh so hard on the bus through a dodgy part of town that she had to close the book in case someone sitting near her took offense. I cried, then I laughed at my cat, now I write and I cry again. When I know how, I’ll write him a story to say goodbye. I don’t know whether he would have approved, but I hope he would have. I don’t know whether he knew how much brighter our lives are because he lived, but I hope he did.

The Musical Theatre Girls

The musical theatre girls have long, shiny hair and small,
taut waists.
They waltz into choir arm in arm,
singing duets in high, clear voices. They know
all the songs that I know.

The musical theatre girls have heart-shaped faces and heart-shaped lips
and rose-shaped hearts,
each one canny enough to play an ingénue.
The musical theatre girls’ long eyelashes leave shadows
on the musical theatre girls’ high cheekbones, like mine.

The musical theatre girls wear t-shirts from all the shows they’ve been in—
Pippin, The Fantasticks,
Annie Get Your Gun.

I wear t-shirts sometimes. Scars, permanently.
On Sunday, withdrawal symptoms landed me a starring role in Annie Take Your Meds.

The musical theatre girls and I dream of standing alone
before a full house. Our arms spread
like wings on the final note, and you
remember our voices.
I close my eyes.

How beautiful, to be so bare.
To be so desired.

Pulse

last time it was like this I was twenty minutes late
last time reset the clock
I had to apologize
last time it was like this you forgave me
I don’t remember what I remember
the thud of my knees hitting the kitchen floor
the vice of your hand on my jaw
turning my head
someone sobbing stop, stop
or I was laughing
or the time I didn’t say anything not a damn thing I didn’t say a word
I came back wrong this time
I came back forgetting
just like last time
like the time before that
every time this sound
my blood runs through my veins
my blood breathes ragged
my blood rattles locked doors
my blood wants out

While you dream, I am walking a tightrope through the winter sky.
I look down,
and your breath still holds the night up. I look down,
and I fall.

Under the sun of some other faraway,
you smile in your sleep.
Forget me not, Spring-weaver.
Forget me not,
forever the best of me.

The Man Upstairs is Always Singing

I hear him outside our bedroom window.
At four below zero, he doesn’t slip
on the ice on the stairs,
wears a scarf to protect his vocal cords,
and sings down the snow.
At ten AM on a Sunday morning,
he plays choral music in the room above my own.
He sings along to gospel,
pop,
requiems.
At night, he dreams he stands on a balcony,
and watches a city burning.
He dreams the smoke rises and carries,
inexplicably,
the voices of children. They sing,
“You will never learn.
You will never learn.”
The voices of children singing.
He still hears them.
He doesn’t sing along.

Ace of Spades

Forgive me.
Oh, forgive me.
Hold me underwater. Let me sleep.
Forget the thousand tired metaphors for what my autopsy reveals–
ashes, paper, melting ice,
nothing, nothing, nothing.
Forget my face is painted on,
the way it peels off, layer after layer.
Hold me underwater.
Forgive me for not struggling.
It is not enough
to force my way through three feet of snow just to escape
the place to which I must return;
it is not enough
to save myself from falling.

Someone says he’s afraid for me,
and I

I eat nothing all day,
polish every piece of furniture until it glows.
I used to rehearse my times tables in my head.
Over again.
Over again.

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