Slept well last night woke up well chose to shave in spite of the pain and played with a white eyeliner pencil ivory concealer sunscreen mascara and put up my hair remembered to take the keys and credit card and drove to an interview at Dixie State University which went well but I felt sick after and nearly cried against the steering wheel as I started the car to go home but didn’t go home went to Perk’s Coffee but before that I stopped at the cemetery and missed a young woman I didn’t know very well then went to Perk’s coffee and wrote a poem that didn’t fit into its form and drove out again down Telegraph St. to Joanne Fabrics for worsted yarn then down River Rd. turned right onto seventh south into About Face Salon for moisturizer and cleanser then off to the Albertson’s grocery for potatoes yams celery lunch meat rice and checking out the man scans and bags my groceries and I use my government issued food card and place the bags into my cart and he hands me the receipt and says “have a nice day Miss,” and I’m home and unpacked typing this to YouTube music alone in my parents house happy for once dear gods of giving up gods of forgettable dreams I am happy I am alive and grateful I don’t know for what.
I stopped at Breanne’s grave today
because I remembered. I picked up
a gruffy feather on the way between
the other dead and sat down at hers
with my knees to my chest as I do when I’m sad.
Old mowed grass had gathered so I brushed them away
from her picture and birth and death date.
Grass was still growing in the holes
where flower pots go. Pale brick around the stone
was buckling. I met her once when she was alive. Or twice.
My sister’s identical twin friend dead at twenty.
Now my nose is running and I didn’t
bring a tissue. Breanne, I would die right now
to know where you are. I hardly knew you. Where are you?
I need something to remember.
When the mind can’t contain the pain any longer, it bleeds out
into the body. That’s why depression hurts.
And when the body can’t contain the pain any longer …
call me and we can go out for drinks.
If you like, we can lean against each other
on the grey sofa at Perk’s coffee
and feel each other still breathing. I would let you
place your hand against my chest and count
how many heart beats per minute. Maybe then
your body-ache could ease into mine.
Because there is always more room in two people
more space to move and stretch the legs.
Because sometimes we are like lizards looking for rocks
and sometimes we are rocks with room for a lizard.
I spent some time organizing poems today at Perk’s Coffee. Made two files, “blog poems” and “facebook poems” and put them in a folder labeled “book.” Scrolled through the “Facebook poems” and revised three poems, then stopped and sat still. Light from the window was pleasant and seemed to carry with it old memories, their pain dulled now, but still present. I remembered being married. I remember sex. I remember meeting my wife for the first time at a church activity. I needed a ride home. She was sweet, passive, unassuming. I was comfortable. We were engaged soon after, and married about a year into our relationship.
Then I fell apart in front of her. Lost my faith in God. Fell into a depression I wasn’t aware of. But stuck it out with her and she was patient and hopeful. Her dad would come down with ALS and we’d move in with him until he died, a pile of sticks and cold skin. Then off to complete my Master’s in poetry, and right back to be with her mother whose liver had failed and skin thinned until removing bandaids could make her bleed and scream in pain. Back and forth from the hospital. Then a fall in the bedroom and an ambulance ride again, this time the last.
I remember the doctor taking my wife and I out into the hallway to sit in a small alcove by a window where he would suggest we call family and get them here immediately because the kidneys were failing now and it wouldn’t be long. She wasn’t going home. It was December. The parking lot filled with black slush. I felt like shaking. The next I remember we were in the ICU and her mother was unconscious from morphine and breathing like a fish out of water. Mike was there and Les, and David, my wife’s brothers, and their wives.
I dared to touch her white forehead and whisper into her ear, “it’s ok, go on, it’s ok.” The oxygen mask had been removed and the oxygen meter was slowly measuring less and less oxygen in her lungs. The heart rate slowed, but hung on for a while. I stood in the corner with my feet on the ground. Tyna leaned into her first older brother, Mike, and maybe said something. Everyone paced and kept watching the monitors and touching her hand on the bed or kissing her cheek and saying “it’s all right,” and “we’re all here, it’s ok.”
When the oxygen plummeted and the heart rate stopped and the nurse called the time and the body lay there, still, eyes open, mouth chapped and gently closed, the head turned to one side, I wanted to leave I didn’t care who I left behind I wanted to leave, down the seven floors to the lobby and into a lonely quiet corner in the closed cafeteria and exist only with her memory, moving, smiling, chasing me with a wooden spoon and all of us laughing.
I think I died with her. Something died with her. My wife and I managed to teach English for more than three years in China after her death, but when we came home we were divorced within a year. That was the end of Ryan. He didn’t exist after that. I had no identity, no one to fall back on for purpose or meaning. I was a period without a sentence.
It could have ended there. I might have cried myself into oblivion and I wouldn’t be thinking back like I am now. But I didn’t end. The poet in me saw that period sitting there like a naked ending, and began to write the sentence, and the next sentence, and then paragraphs that would transform what appeared to be an end, into a beginning. I had no plan. I felt strangely light, completely free of the old burdens. That’s when I knew I wasn’t a man. I’d never been a man. And so I began to develop into the mostly-woman I am today.
By now, the coffee had gotten cold and I had been listening to the same five songs for the past hour as my thoughts rolled back and forth between now and then and what-next. The light from the window was still bright. I had taken my hair down like a ruffled curtain and brushed through the strands and gazed out the window at the cars on Sunset Boulevard and couldn’t decided if what I felt was pain or relief, wonder or despair.
Whatever I felt then, I thought it was a good time for a photo. This was a good moment to preserve. A good face to remember.
We hide at first
with dogs behind dumpsters
in the dicks of thick men
in the opiate’s foggy parlor
and when our souls fall into a coma
and the mind slows down
like an old train and stops long before
the ghost town’s platform
we walk out into a sea of weeds
and cry and cry and cry
for some place to go
that isn’t patrolled like the tunnels
underneath 54th South
or the dog park that now closes at nine
where we would pitch our canvas
against mosquitos and smog.
We cry until we’ve dried up and must drink
from the city-river’s yellow froth
and we cry again
our voices filled with gas and gravel we cry help
and the wind blows the day’s newspaper
into our faces
as if to announce our place
between the American Nazi’s torch
and the blazing mad man on the hill
pledging to purge our kind
from the force we thought would defend us.
I’ve been trying to write poetry for maybe 17 years or more, but only in the last year do I feel like I’ve started to write with real honesty: vulnerable, necessary, unedited (in the sense that I’ve written exactly how it is to be me now without pulling back oh the reigns).
I never intended to become the next W.S. Merwin or Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton, but I did recognize in the best poets a revelation of self that resonated with me and seemed to call out to all human beings, as if saying over and over “pay attention now. Don’t wait for the suffering to subside. Shout now. Cry out your pain now. Make it beautiful, like the pregnant silence of a winter lake, weakly frozen.”
I’m not concerned with changing the course of poetry as Whitman did or gain the recognition like Merwin or Sexton (probably wasn’t their intentions either). In the beginning I didn’t know what I was writing for.
In fact, it wasn’t until December 2015, admitted into the mental health wing of a hospital in St. George Utah, that poetry began talking to me. I was somewhat suicidal. My sense of self contained no benhe of self-worth. I felt alien. Like Earth wasn’t my Earth. That I wasn’t human like everyone else. But, then, in the hospital, I began writing to myself from somewhere in me I had to invent at first. A self who was kind to me. Kind, but also honest.
I had just gotten a divorce and discovered I was transgender and I was captioning phone calls at work for the hearing impaired and had to repeat the dozen daily deaths and hatreds. I remember doubting the value of poetry in the face of so much painful reality. I questioned my own value as a person who writes – an activity that was beginning to feel like drawing faces on the foreheads of the dying. I thought “we are all starving and I’m passing out sketchings of potatoes.”
But this “invented” person I began to write from, steered me around such thinking. she called me “Lovely” and pointed out that the value I felt for others could be the value I felt for myself. She reminded me of Mary Oliver’s poem “wild Geese” in which she writes “Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” I’d always thought she was addressing the reader, but I soon realized the lines could easily be interpreted as the poet trying to connect with and heal herself.
I’ve cried a lot since then. Violently. Without breathing, nearly blind, the body colapsing into itself. And months later I’d spend more time in the hospital where I began having visions of suicide – where I would suddenly see myself taking every last pill I kept in the desk drawer, anxiety pills first, then pills for sleep, then everything else whatever they were.
I never wanted to die. Too many things had died already and too fast. I was to angry to die. Angry because it seemed no one cared. Between work, the kids, retirement, school, and finding a few hours to sleep, no one had any time to feel anything for anyone. Often not even for there own family.
At first I felt I couldn’t bear to live in such a callous world. Almost at the same time, the anger in me just wanted to scream at everyone. I wanted to comandeer all of the news channels and start reading off the names of the dead, the dying, the murdered, the cardboard architects. Especially now I want to take control of every media outlet all over the world and just scream until everyone was listening. Then after a brief silence I would ask between clenched teeth, “what have we done with our love stories? Have we gotten so preoccupied with oppinion and “fact” that we’ve forgotten what we even live for? We talk healthcare, war, poverty, abuse of power, minorities, boarders. We’ve been marching for our civil and human rights for millenia. MILLENIA GODS DAMN IT! And has it occurred to anyone how infuriating, maddening, it is that we are still arguing over such easily answered questions?
I want to scream so loud it drowns out the car sounds and crowd sounds, the bells on Wall Street, trains, air traffic, even wind and birds. “WE WILL ALL DIE. SOON. By the thousands, millions, but also each death it’s own single lonely event.”
“We’ll die, we’ll suffer. Everything does. Naturally. And it’s enough anguish without us adding any more to it. It’s enough already. Why is compassion so fucking hard? Why is it so impossible to value anything outside our three mile economic boundaries?”
I’ve wanted to die, but I want to scream more. I want to prove myself wrong. I can’t die. Not now. Not until I’ve said and found my peace.
In grad school one of my mentors, the poet Marvin Bell, would often assert that the worst things a sailor can have at sea is an anchor and two oars. (or something like that) He was quoting someone I think, and referring to writing poetry and the poet’s way of living. And I’ve tried to live that way, letting my life unfold naturally without any assumptions or assertions about where it should go or what it should become. And I’m grateful for that bit of wisdom. The sea has taken me places I never thought I could go or even imagined could have existed. I am the woman-son I am today because of that wisdom.
But now I feel that period coming to an end. I find myself looking at the moon rather than the ocean. Because I’m not a lone sailor wandering the ocean anymore. I am the ocean. I’ve expanded. I’ve deepened. Great blue whales don’t pass under me anymore, but exist within me. The tides and currents are visible in my face. It was inevitable, I suppose.
But even the ocean is like a sailor without anchor or oars, moved along, connected, by that strange force that bends space and time. It’s seems like the most natural next step – to begin a life lived under the gentle and lonely pull of the moon.