Deep cleaning I find an envelope with photos. Black and white matte. I took them several years ago with an old Canon SLR. I was still married. My parents hadn’t gone through the divorce and re-marriage. They still lived in the house in Kearns. The basement has recently been re-carpeted, there are new white baseboards and a narrow shelf extends around the room, midway up the wall. It’s an empty space except for a recliner and my father sitting in it. Several pictures are from the roof, where I spent most of my teenage years. The swamp cooler still a bit rusty, the aluminum frame too thin to sit on. In the backyard the maple tree is enormous. The branches fill the upper two thirds of the photo, the trunk not any wider than I am. The lawn had recently been mowed. The fences separating us from three neighbors were still standing, parts only just. There’s a photo of my bedroom window taken from the back yard. Water stains between the panes make it impossible to see inside. The second floor patio is still ready for its funeral. Boards split, every nail bent and red. And from the front of the house: the two step cement stoop, the simple door with its simple knob. A split level. The window, bottom right, is the basement. The window above that, the living room. Bottom left, the bedroom I once shard with a sister, maybe Robyn, maybe Amy. Probably Robyn. Above that, my parents room. When I slept with my sister in the room downstairs, I would have panic attacks before bed. My hands would seem to enlarge into parade-sized balloons. The room would expand until the door seemed out of reach, and I would run upstairs to sleep, somehow, with my parents who already shared a mere full-sized bed. Eventually they kept a sleeping bad by the bedside, and I would sleep in that.

That was my home twenty years ago. At least twenty years. Not long for some folks, but at forty, that’s half my life. And since then I’ve wandered. I went to college and lived in a dozen apartments. I married outside love because I didn’t know what that was. I lived with in-laws until their bodies became like mounds of broken rock or smooth clay. I lived in China and then St. George. I left my marriage and lived with my parents. And now I’m renting a room, maybe 90 square feet in a home that isn’t mine, and doesn’t belong to the couple renting the room to me either.

And now my own body …

It was once a home when I had no home. Foreign to me now. I’ve remodeled, repainted, rearranged space, installed two small love sacks. But it isn’t the home in Kearns. Not the split level, and not the boy’s body. And even that kid’s body was never really home. It was never right. But at least I had the house and my sisters. My mother and father. I had a home in my family.

And that, like everything else, is changing. Like those illusions at night I had as a child, the walls of my family seem to be expanding, retreating, and I still run to catch up with the door before it’s too late.

The Ceremony

Sat on a stump along the Jordan River
in Murray Utah just after the sun had set.
The sky was yellow and blue and green,
the clouds in small clumps of clay.

On my right, yellow mustard weed. On my left
a bush fill with white umbrella blossoms.
I choose a few of the white blossoms, wiggle
them inside a glass bottle pendant, plug it with cork

and place it around my kneck. It was something
I’d wanted to do for years. Of the many things
I can’t accept, I grip the glass pendant and say
out loud I accept these blossoms. They will stiffen

and wrinkle and die. I can accept that. This glass
will be the urn I keep between my heart and my lungs.

Midnight Sonnet

I could sleep but I’m not.
My room is as big as Salt Lake county,
and as stagnant as the Great Salt Lake.

Is there anyone out there
other than brine shrimp and mosquitos?
Anyone who speaks English or German
or simple chinese. Anyone?

No more things please.
If it can’t talk, I don’t care.
If it doesn’t feel, I don’t care.
If it can’t stay the night, every night

I will stay here, stuck at midnight.
Not sleeping, and I’m afraid, not awake either.

An Origin Story

Tomorrow, when you come mother, I will begin to use words
I haven’t used in nearly two decades.
I will say I believe.
I will say I pray to gods now, and that I believe
I was alive before the earth came together,
and the love I hold, the compassion that kills me, I believe
came to me 40 years ago, tethered inside your center.

The body, I know, will become mulch for the grass and trees,
it’s energy consumed inside a squirrel and worm and the bird that eats the worm.
But I believe some other thing will continue.
It has been too long, mother.
I believe again.
That is why, when I say there’s a woman in me,
I don’t mean the idea or the feeling or what they say about identity.
I mean a woman.
I do not identify as a woman.
That is all a confusion, a rumor, a comic mythology.

I believe in creation.
I believe god took her painting seriously.
I believe she lifted us from the canvas in order
to place us into reality. An infinite variety of realities.
I can see her wild face splattered with charred red and a wistful silver,
her eyes barely taking the time to blink. I believe her mother
would have brought in a plate of pancakes and blueberry syrup
that has gone cold, left on a folding table
next to paint thinner, paper towels and faintly sketched versions
of us, brown with coffee stains.

I find it easy to believe this. That we were painted
into existence first, then given some kind of form,
a body others could touch. A medium they could press their prints into.
And maybe my own form is not the wrong form after all.
Maybe it was given as a medium for moulding and manipulation.
Maybe the body was never supposed to be gendered.
I will suspend my disbelief.
The gods must be artists,
manic, depressive, torn between love and loss and a need
to be present for other loves, other sorrows that ring in the ears
like a note that repeats and repeats until we stop
asking when or if it will ever end.

I believe they painted me a woman, mother.
That is what I mean when I say who I am and when I dress
in webbed stockings, skinny jeans and wedge heels.
They painted me wild, impressionistic, bright and dark
and gave me this form to mold on my own. So I interpret myself
with my own tools, my own trowel and plaster,
my own torch and tears. And whatever I become,
however closely I resemble my painted self,
whatever happens, I believe will matter less
than the spirit who dared to make it happen.

I believe we live to change.
I believe the bodies we posses were never finished. Our skin
is ours to make smooth or rough. The whole of our form
is ours to shape, our hips, our cheek bones
the depth our eyes, the width and bulk of our lips.
Can you believe I believe this?
After so much doubt, so much anger. I believe
whatever we are, it is us the gods wanted
to finish their work.
I must believe it.
For my own survival I believe. I believe the gods
painted me a woman, and I’ve been praying to them,
for more than two years I’ve prayed,
pleading to see the woman they made.
and I am still praying. After all these years, mother,
I am praying again. And you were right –
they listen.

What We Do Naturally

Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – AD 79) writes that crying is the only thing humans are able to do naturally, from birth.

So far I have found nothing else we do from birth that hasn’t been learned. But I wonder if Pliny was referring to crying both for sadness and for joy.

Because today, at last, I am crying from an over abundance of peace and goodness.

A Sonnet in Which We Can Pray

I stay awake in the living room at ten thirty at night.
Light from the laptop reveals the contours of my fingers
curved like a pianist’s above the keyboard keys.
The ceiling fan moves the air, it pushes or pulls it

through the frayed fringes of my hair. Somewhere the cats
are roaming the dark. Somewhere a toothless dog is sleeping.
Somehow I feel the need to type so slowly, as if I’m afraid
to disturb Monica and Stephanie sleeping together in their room

at the end of the hall. I feel there must be a reverence
within the quiet tonight, a whispered blessing for those
who can’t remember when the pain began, or what it was like
to roll over into their love and spoon and sleep all night.

Maybe you can remember. Maybe the blazing day’s end
has freed you too, and we can pray together, for everyone.