Letter to 13 year old me

I want you to know that you were right before you felt the need to be right.

The dog in the picture that sits inside your arms is different now. She’s a longer, daintier half breed. People stop you on the sidewalk to tell you how pretty she is. A beagle on stilts.

But you don’t forget the now deceased animal of your past. Small with soft ears too big for his head. You once sat up all night cleaning the worms he vomited onto the couch. He was one of those puppy mill puppies that was broken when you got him, but you were prepared to love him anyway.

You were fiercely jealous when he curled up next to your brother at night. Once you snuck him out of your brother’s room, but he stumbled his way back.

The dimly lit space behind you was too snug for him. The neighbors complained about his howls through thin apartment walls. And your mom didn’t feel well enough to chase him around. So another family loved him instead.

You were a clash of color. A smorgasbord of thrift store finds. Musty, knitted sweater. Yellow beanie. Yellow like sunshine. Yellow like madness. You put every single one of those rings on in the morning as armor. You knew you belonged here.

Why do I keep coming back to you?

What is left for me to forgive? To criticize? What is there to learn from you that I haven’t already internalized?

Today you match everything except for your socks, because you can never find the partners. You wear an engagement ring on your middle finger. Your grandma’s watch on your left wrist. It has since stopped ticking. You remember the day it stopped ticking and felt a little more alone, until the next meaningful conversation rolled around, and you stopped paying attention to time.

It’s raining. There’s a spider outside your window. You left it there because you admired the amount of work and time it put into its web. Your dog is asleep on the couch. Your man is washing the dishes you filled with dinner. You had a good day. People see you. This is the present. This is the love you surround yourself with. It loves you back.

You were right before you felt the need to be right. Thank you for allowing yourself to be huge by nurturing the most fragile parts.


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.

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.”


“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.

Green pain

When I was a kid I never noticed things like sunflowers pointing toward the sun. I realize now it’s a little creepy – like they have a soul or something. Maybe there was once a time when I sat for long periods and was okay with being myself on some random stump, or rock, or hill.

I used to watch my mom writhe in bed, wriggle like a worm set on fire. There was a music to it. Professionals couldn’t agree on the tune. It meant something different to each white coat. A leech, maybe. Wires switched around or exposed? Suppose there was something swimming around in the abyss of her DNA. They all murmured something different. I used my imagination to color in her pain. I wore it like a new summer hat. I closed my eyes tight, imagining electric shocks pricking my vertebrae or icy cold fingers wrapped tight around my spine. I imagined what it was like to see nothing coming. To feel NOTHING knock me off my feet, or turn off gravity.

My dad’s pain was just as tough to wrestle. I imagined playing hide and seek with him and never finding him. Though it’s been 15 years, he still suffers for the dents in the furniture, the empty cans in the storage locker. I can see it in his face just before he changes the subject or cracks a joke, when he forgets birthdays. Sometimes when I take swigs of drinks, I imagine it’s like kissing him on an open sore on his mouth.

There’s so much noise out there. I contribute to it. I’m just one mechanical wave in an auditory ocean made of vibrating waves. There’s so much noise. People yell over roaring engines, explosions, over a soundless cyberspace that’s just as loud as everything else. The internet’s echo is loud enough to wake me from a sound sleep. But pain is still the loudest of all. And yet, I wear it in the winter, wrap it around my neck like a scarf to keep me warm.

I want to feel the pain, so when that crinkle in the face we call a smile happens, I’m there to see it. Not take ownership of it, just see it. Like a solar eclipse or the sighting of a humpback whale. There’s something insanely beautiful about smiles poking holes through sadness.

When I was a kid I used to spin around in circles and just see a blur of grass. Everywhere, it was green. I was dizzy with green. Maybe I would have realized that if I stopped spinning for one second, I could notice the calmness of things. I could pick out individual blades of green.