The loudest way to survive

So you didn’t get the knobby
shoulders you needed.
That’s a lot of us,
and I sympathize with relativity.
But let me let you
lean in on my secret:

my big-mouthery is
my own, but it’s also
cavewoman survival.

I did what I could
with sticks and stones.
But tried my best not
to break any bones
because I recognized
their malnourishment.

Children who have been
pushed down rivers
in baskets please
cry, cry, cry
as loud as you can.

Your cries will give way
to words, which you will use
as an armor of testament,
of existence, of proclamation
that you belong here,
that we’ve not yet
occupied Mars.

Don’t press so much on
the bruises, which
are designed or not
designed, depending
on how you look at it,
to fascinate and distract
you from what tickles
your insides and makes
you sneeze at the flower
raised in front of your face.

And if you can see it
don’t pluck the petals
just yet. Love me nots
are not yet in your equation.

This is your cliche to own.
These are your metaphors
to mix and match.

So lasso love.

Sling what you
did not receive.

When you pull it
from the earth,
rock it back and forth.

Then put it back
in the river you
remember floating
down so clearly.

Feed what will cleanse you.

Go home, you’re getting crazy

“Go home, you’re getting crazy.”

Oh, my sweet motorcycle riding, cat loving co-worker,
what if I’ve been there for as long as I’ve lived?

I don’t know what the other side looks like.
Probably just as crazy, huh?

Everything feels like the apocalypse.

I know. I know. The word is as loaded as a baked potato.

Just imagine flames and feelings that aren’t yet in the registry.

I see people begging or asking for donations on Higgins Road
on my way home from work.

There’s no rotation. It’s always a new person. I scrounge my car.

Here, take it.
This is everything on me.

No, keep the lollipop.
I don’t need any more sweets.

I always look the person deep in the eyes until mine burn.

Someone

“Someone” needs to unplug my brain
or allow me to be in a space
where I can play with it
like a cat with yarn.

But I’ve never been much of a cat person.
I like dogs for their bliss
and birds for their flight and paranoia.

It’s true what they say, a job,
at least any old job is a trap,
and 9 to 5 is man made
and wrapped in barbed,
electrified strings
that zap you awake
but not wide enough.

And sometimes you forget the way
your throat tends to move
when it’s fed words.

And that “someone” is me, right?

Except that someone seems so strange
to me right now.
So hidden, creepy-crawly,
rag-dolly.

I never thought words
could make an enemy of me.

They were supposed to be
flutters of light.

Dandelion-like.

This was supposed to come with sprinkles,
and the icing is dry.

And sure, I have secrets that paralyze me,
play me dead,
but it’s the open-ended questions
that consume me.

The lose-yourself-in-the-music
kind of symptoms that come
with hearty pep talks.

But not only music.
Everything.

Lose yourself in everything?
What kind of advice is that
for people who choose to be planted
in perfectly pleasant pleasantries?

Oh, but there’s so much more,
they say with their dewy eyes
that are so easy to get lost in.

You know the flower children I speak of,
they grab your hand and drag you
through a row of sunflowers
drinking sun in the wind.

You tell them it’s getting late,
and you have to get back.

I love and hate them
for clasping the galaxies
swimming around their heads
and daring them to jump.

Before sleep

Where’s the depth, baby
oh, there it is
we fucked a hole in
the bedspread.

I’m not even mad.

face to face
on pillows.
on separate islands.
I asked what you dreamed
as a kid

you don’t remember.

can we play hooky
can we go camping
can we screw some holes
in the time it takes to grow old?

can we wear each other’s faces?

It’s been a long time
since you shaved
your beard
but today you did
because you accidentally
trimmed too far.

I can’t stop touching
your childhood.
you made plumbing
out of sticks
to assist the ants.
oh, and one time
in Boy Scouts
you saw innards
of a deer draped
like red scarves over a tree.

I asked if the bits scared you
and shook your bank for more.

I feel like a memory grubber.

Before sleep, you let me
play with unexplored
parts of you.
your earlobes
are trampolines,
your nose
is a sturdy bridge.

Maybe I’m asking
wrong questions

like if I teach you
how to dream,
will you teach me how
to sleep soundly?

Basset hound

My grandfather’s soul is a shape shifter.
It knows where to go –
the chasm between two sleeping bodies
huddled in their own respective corners
on a queen size mattress,
leaving body imprints on memory foam.

In this life, my grandfather is a basset hound.
I know it’s him.
The man always had a thing for long ears
that can hear their way through the saddest cracks.

When he walks, he trips.
And we call it entertainment.
He doesn’t mind the laughter.

It helps when entertainers are aware
of how much they’re loved.

There are no holes in his droopy, slobbery love.

Oh how my grandfather yodels and cries
when we leave the house.
He can’t stand it and leaves oily trails
of snot on the sliding glass window.

He doesn’t care about the neighbors
who pound their broomsticks on the walls.
His howls don’t embarrass him.
He knows what he’s missing,
can describe vividly the pain and where it hurts.

I named my hound, Elvis,
which was my grandfather’s nickname.
He was a dirty martini kind of guy,
the version they couldn’t show on T.V.
He was graceless with olive breath
and spaghetti sauce stains on his sweaters.
But he knew how to dance, and all of the ladies
at the local library where I worked were smitten
whenever he tap danced their names in his words.

My grandfather hated going to the doctor.
He was stubborn and silent in sickness
until it boiled over and the toxic fluid
flooded his lungs and around his heart.
When they drained him, he was flat as cardboard.

Elvis and I cut through the park on our walks.
I think he likes the woodchips underneath his paws.
His large jowls flap in the crisp spring breeze,
and he jumps and takes chomps at wayward bugs,
and I’m grateful because I think they aim for me.

Sometimes at night, I take Elvis to the pond to feed ducks.
His fur is the same color as the reeds along the shore.
His watery, brown eyes look up at me, lathering my thoughts.
He breathes in deep a grass-scented silence.
I can tell he understands,
that he doesn’t know what comes next,
but it’s getting late, and he’s hungry,
and our favorite spots on the couch are cold.

Breakfast with Mom’s Beatles

Your good days surprised us
with sunshine’s warm waves
wandering over a dusty dash.
We barely ate; it was early.
Our stomachs weren’t ready
for the morning’s full flavor
and your throat’s off-key tune,
but we sank our baby teeth
into Breakfast with the Beatles.

You introduced us to Eleanor,
Rocky, Bill, and Polythene Pam.
A whole lineup of characters—
lonely lovers and wanderers,
walruses and birds that sing,
stream stories through stereos,
and bypass dog-eared books.

Winding our long way to church,
I put aside Sunday school verse.
I believed in the drive to and from
and smiling skies, no marmalade
ones with mallows or diamonds,
instead sleepy blues, gray blots,
and sneek peeks of goldish light.

“Shh, you can hear a toilet flush
in the background of this one,”
you whispered, and we giggled,
tilting our ears to the car radio.
You’d lean, breathe a sigh into
the window. “Paul wrote Martha
my Dear for his silly sheepdog
or maybe a shy girl he loved.”

I got this idea to stretch out long
on our carpet, write songs for you.
“Writing the words of a sermon
that no one will hear,” I’d think.
You told me to continue my lines,
smiled secrets because you knew
you were my muse and inspiration.

After church, I’d add flesh to you
so even lovely Rita and sexy Sadie
would phrase their admiration.
I’d remember the bells braided
into your hair, a silver chorus
jingling behind feather earrings,
a trail of l’air du temps perfume.
I’d call the song by your full name.

Sundays weren’t tired of meaning.
They weren’t spent sick in bed—
your body a rolling pin pressing
pain into a mattress like unbaked
bread—nor alone in a white room,
no windows gleaming sun or song.

Your favorites, I Wanna Hold your
Hand and Girl, wore fragile wings
simply like waving hello goodbye
to familiar strangers in passing cars.

The seeds of screams

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

“One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.”

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Munch/resource/171

“This is where it picks up,” my brother says,
strumming his pant leg with long fingernails
lined in the dirt he’s been digging up for years.
He glances at me to see if I’m still watching
then peers at the lyrics he’s scribbled down—
four lines at a time about rising from ashes.

It’s anti-climactic when my brother screams.
To him, screaming is song and second language,
and as he teaches me I marvel at his proficiency.
The guttural sound erupts from a bubbling pit
in the diaphragm, rising from the gut quick as bile.
The acidity sits in the back of the throat, not burning,
but patiently waiting, stalking, until the mouth opens.

When he screams, his flesh remains the same pale
with a hint of peach. There is no crimson waterfall,
soft bleeding of pinks, or plum purple in his cheeks,
I see no pulsating veins bursting like fresh bruises.
His face does not contort into rage, disfigured hate.
He could be blowing candles out on a birthday cake.

Women of horror used to be called scream queens,
and I wonder what kind of primal cue it’d take for me
to emit a sharpness as blood-curdling and skin-liquefying.
Somewhere there’s a scientist with a lock box of screams
and an outdated psychologist who tells patients to relive
their pasts, rehash a few lashings in order to purge pain.

The same people who brought you into the world began
with a scream – a concoction of pleasure, pain, and relief.
And when a baby’s head protrudes from the womb, it’s harsh
and sweet. You break your mother, and she transcends sound,
feeling to reach infinite barriers, beyond pain of femininity.

Once when I was a kid, I was playing before I trapped myself
underneath a door that was yet to be attached to its doorway.
I squirmed in my winter coat, and the weight on top of me
stifled the cry of terror in my lungs; it was barely a whisper.
My mother had pulled the heavy mass off and showered me
in comfort, soothing coos to calm to my close-call tears.

Now the only time I attempt to scream is in dreaming.
I kick like a dog who can’t catch her unconscious assailant.
I wake up and my throat is hoarse, but there’s no memory.

“Before you scream, don’t just throw it out there, focus it,”
my brother tells me. “Then let it flow, give it room to breathe.”

So I gulp air, cradling my own wind close to me before I scream,
and when I do, I call out to all my silences and shake them
like branches of trees laundering seeds ready to be born.