keep your eye

[happy mother’s day! i hope you enjoy this poem i created for the may 5th services at all souls unitarian universalist church in tulsa, as part of my artists’ residency. the whole church is exploring the theme of truth for the month.]

keep your eye (interpolates excerpts from the song “anticipate” by ani difranco)

1.
“we don’t say everything that we could
so that we can say later, ‘oh, you misunderstood’”
in the story i heard,
someone else played the role of villain,
though my mother never revealed
their evil deed.
she just said it, like sliding
a note underneath the door.
when my mother doesn’t give
explanations willingly,
don’t even bother asking.
she clearly did not want to talk about it.

2.
fact: noun. a thing that is known or proved to be true.
eventually, we started having an affair.
both she and i, cheating on our respective partners,
all under the same roof, all under their noses.
after six months, we came clean, endured painful breakups,
then reuinited with our partners, and started cheating.
together. again.
i kept telling myself these lies:
that i was changing, becoming better,
but the truth is,
i never had good intentions to begin with.

3.
“i hold my cards up close to my chest,
i say what i have to, and i hold back the rest”
the internet became, during that time, its own magician.
people could prestidigitate themselves
into whatever they wanted.
so, that’s what i did.
slipped on new names, stole beautiful women’s pictures
made the boys of my dreams fall in love
with the girl i’d always wanted to be.
i wasn’t really lying to them,
not even about how much i loved them.
it was my voice, my feelings, my personality,
just poured into a package they actually wanted.
a package that didn’t look like me.

4.
qualifier: noun. a word or phrase used to attribute a quality to another word.
i do this thing
where i add words like “little bit” and “kinda”
to my statements. it’s a coping skill.
to make me smaller. to make me feel more protected.

5.
“you are subtle as a windowpane standing in my view,
but i will wait for it to rain so that i can see you”
my grandmother always said my parents left me with her
because i was sick. i believed for a long time
that they didn’t like me, didn’t want to be with me,
because i was sick.
my grandmother never told me how she convinced
my parents that my bronchitis would heal faster
if i were with her, that her house was warmer
than theirs.
better for me.

6.
omission: noun. someone or something that has been left out or excluded.
it felt like a betrayal to have ever had my uncle near us.
It felt like a betrayal that my mother never
told us what he did to her,
what he could have done to us.
he’s in prison now. for molesting another little girl.
i hate him.

7.
“for every hand extended, another lies in wait”
he told me he loved me. said, “in the unlikely event
that we don’t end up together, i will never
disappear from your life.”
what he didn’t say was that he was already
somebody’s husband, and five children’s father.

8.
“repetition is the secret to developing a powerful belief.”
listen. hear the chanting in the distance.
now, whether those voices encant
truth or lie,
bottomless love or brittle hatred,
they are doing the same work.
they are making themselves
believe

meta

childhood: the frailest thing we all fling.

a memory catalog, except all is symbolic.

divine sweet metaphorical moments and spirit-

biting bald sadnesses.

the only thing for which you can express

your dislike by saying it doesn’t exist.

never a dull moment.

there had to be,

but who remembers.

your childhood sat on a swing one day

and nothing much happened.

no bullies hurling a small body bloody akimbo.

no reaching treetops with sneaker-clad kicking feet.

just swinging.

why recall that when your adulthood

demands an archetype

of impermanence, of longing?

so many thousand leg-pumps away

from simplicity.

adulthood insists:

no kid on a swing is JUST a kid on a swing.

by 22 we’ve forgotten

how to leave anything to itself.

listen:

my childhood played with bugs,

favored the word “grody” over “gross.”

how many times did your childhood skin her knee?

how many times the scab only a scab?

did she eat it?

mine, maybe,

poked at tender dermises,

made a game of not letting a cut heal.

what metaphor there?

vote now on your phones.

this is the bored curiosity to which i’ll assign

all the relevance I wish was stored

in laundry days, direct deposits

(a kind of magic that makes my money a ghost)

or that time the boy you crushed so hard on

felt you up on a church pew

while two other youth groupers

hid, heard you slurp, pant,

confess virginity –

the ridicule a ritual,

you’ll later determine,

to prepare you for what adult thing?

almost any. from political convictions

to full-time employment

what if some shiny announcer

popped up shitgrinning at each

ambivalent spot in your young life,

snapped, “remember kids,

this might mean something someday!”

would anything change?

traumatize? metastasize?

would that girl you were,

skeakerfooted and scratched somewhere

(surely)

stiffen and drag her leg muscles to a stop

or just swing anyway?

sound I make

they like the sound I make
when I break.
ripe tendons
tend to tune
the snap
of limbs
deliciously

this is what
I remember about lovemaking
with men:
a kind of wheezing
in the chest that rolls
over mine
throats burn
when they smell my blood

once pulled,
there is a split second
in which they look
almost human
nuzzling my hollows
soft ’til saliva
saves their mouths
from need of me

eyes click open.
they are animal again
remembering
how to leave the carcass
once it is cleaned