Wednesday, July 15, 2015

after one year in the city (first draft)

small town taught me to treat every unknown face with a dose of suspicion,
Brooklyn instructed me in the true meaning of kindness to strangers.

in light of things: 

I realized,
I can walk around this neighborhood feeling uneasy, 
or i can assume that,
unless someone is wielding a weapon,
they are a neighbor
therefore deserving of wave, smiles,
& chit-chat about the weather

And I asked myself
Are you avoiding his glance because he's a stranger, 
because he's a man, 
or because he is black? 
and when the answer was "D", all of the above--
I asked myself, what the hell's with that? 
reluctantly admitting
that this nervousness is prejudice
dressed in self-preservation's clothing
I got to the real work:

separating what I learned
from what is actually true.

in gratitude:

Steel pans make my body move like willow trees in a thunderstorm
 Troubadours play Bob Marley  in almost every town,
Tearfalls dropping into the cup of coffee because

every little thing is gonna all right, even if it is wrong now.
Even if I cannot see how it could go another way,
in memoriam: 

I did not know that it is hotter in the city,
and that I would be in my mid-twenties &
sleeping on the floor,
free from cumbersome cotton blankets
making love to a box fan, prostrate on the cool ground
like a childhood in August
when, with every window flung open--
our thighs given as sacrifice to the mosquito gods--
we could not catch a breeze.
So we slept nose-to-fan,
counting every leaf turning red on the twin maples outside
impatient for Fall.
The seasons weren't the only thing that came around.

I learned that no one is talking about me
because i am so blissfully insignificant,
& free to wear shorts from last season
pick my wedgie,
and cry on a park bench
if that is what the moment requires.
I am the background noise of someone else's life story

just as they are the same for me.

in conclusion: 

smile at strangers
and offer to hold babies if mom is overwhelmed
& can't find her subway card.

 always wink when an abuelita tells a dirty joke,
to let her know that this gringa caught her gist.
When old West Indian men say that you are beautiful
smile and say thank you,
or even god bless you.

if you please,
substitute god in your head for hope, or luck, or family
speak it as though it is a foreign language,
 you are seeking a synonym,
 and come close enough to leave it.

I'll save my opinions on cat-calling for voices saying
that my thighs learned the art of syncopation,
from my feet walking steady rhythms down Flatbush avenue.

In Brooklyn,
 there is nothing wrong with playing the stock character of other features.
try & play your part well
so the story can go along its merry way.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Brendan Irving, who should be 25 today.

"I will miss you more on some days than others, but I could never love you any less"
--Brendan Irving, aged 17, writes to Olivia Lloyd, aged 16, while she is away at summer camp.  

It is still difficult to look through pictures from what is now my childhood--you are a prominent fixture in them, oscillating from brown curls to a mane of black-and-white hair, depending on the month and year. It is so odd, finding a photograph of you that I haven't seen before, your jawline well-defined. A trait that I found handsome, even as a girl. Although my life is not really so different now as it was when we were together, I sometimes think that we lived a different life in a separate universe. If only I could pull the curtain between those two worlds, I might see you  again. Lying in the grass of some public park, driving too fast on back roads, and covering the car floor with doughnut crumbs and coffee stains.

I am 24, an age that sounds distinctly adult, and you would be 25. But in my memory, you barely reach 19. Is it so strange, to hold a lingering affection for someone so young?

It took me a very long time to be happy again after you left, and sometimes feeling so happy and in love now feels like a betrayal to the rarity that was us. How often does one find real love before 30? How did I find it twice, and in the same town?  Do I just love too easily?

Perhaps the last is true, and definitively your fault. You taught me that love is really the only remedy for this nameless panic and dread that not-so-occasionally erupts in my chest.

The anger is finally gone, five-point-five years later, and the panic at losing our love has eased. But I will never shake the feeling that you were my big failure. I couldn't have possibly--but there is a lingering nag that I should have found a way to keep you alive. I cannot shake the feeling that this was on my great cosmic "to-do" list--and I missed it.

This feeling does not permeate every waking hour,
but hit me in moments, like when I see a photograph of you that I had not noticed before. It is almost like discovering a new memory with you, as I try to decipher your mental state, your facial expression, what you are trying to tell the camera.

I am reminded that eventually, this re-discovery of living moments will end. The feeling of profound failure settles in for a prolonged stay. But as the years pass, the moment becomes rarer, and today--your birthday--is the first time in a very long time that I have felt the sting of defeat at your preemptive departure.

"who the hell can see forever?"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

tectonic plates over Baltimore // riots under Nepal

The earth is shaking
Can you feel it?
It is either beginning or ending
neither option promises a return to stasis.

an aftershock lasts for years,
like grief, without promise of abatement,
the lesser frequency only causing
hair on the back of your neck to stand vigil--

those long stretches of peace make
fingers quake heavily on the trigger,
unable to discern the bullhorn from the bullet.

earthquake movements
earthquake bodies
earthquake towns
at the edge of the world.

but is it the emerging world,
or the world at its end?

Change comes slowly
after so much compression
and heat--nearly unbearable--
over time immeasurable--

until finally, it erupts.

 what was then can never be again. 
there is only now, and what will be.

It would be such a shame
to be done with everything
before we get around to evolving
but something has got to change
after so much revolve, re-evolve, revolving.

Chaos can only rule for so long
but in the eyes of the Earth
a thousand years may mark a single heartbeat.

Monday, April 27, 2015

on Fatherhood

Today, I had lunch with the 4th graders. Lately, I've been half-present during lunch duty, anxiously refreshing the e-mail app on my smartphone, and praying that someone is interested in hiring me for a different job. However, I am often disappointed. No answers, or not the answer I was hoping for.

But today I sat with the kids and talked. We talked about our favorite songs, and what the week had in store for us. One student assured me that the summer break would come faster than we might expect "like---that!"
The subject of Mother's Day came up. A boy noted that he was surprised to hear that his first word had been "da-da" instead of "mama".

My heart ached a little, but I was enjoying the various contributions. I wasn't about to share such sadness with nine year olds.

He went on to say that his dad had left the family when he was very young. This sentiment was echoed by a chorus of his peers

yeah, me too
me as well
yep, that just happened to me.

All casual, in the way that 4th graders so often echo this kind of truth. The words rain down like pebbles, hard in spite of their carelessness.

I think of my father, as I often do, and his aching absence. His constant, steady presence--followed by a sudden, permanent absence. The grateful stinging of his love throughout my childhood, and how in his last days, he expressed gratitude for his community of family and friends.

Do any of these men have a community, now that they have left their sons and daughters?
One boy murmurs that his dad's got a new family now. I wonder what it must be like, to be on the outside looking in.  To only invite half of your pride to the dinner table, and know that the other is eating elsewhere, perhaps missing you, or trying his best to forget you.

 I ache for them, for my father, for those fathers without the bravery or wisdom to claim their titles.

 Thinking of my niece and nephew now, I realize that this phenomena is all too common; not at all a rarity. Sometimes, I forget about their lack of a father. Partially because my sister takes up both roles so well. Partially because--until recently--my father filled  the remainder of those shoes.  His calm spirit amongst rowdy women made him a favorite among babies. My father's patience led to countless games of "Pretty Pretty Princess". After he fastened clip-on earrings into his beard, I would place a crown upon his head as he exclaimed, "I'm a Pretty Pretty Princess!" with only a hint of irony.

I do not think that fathers are superflous, nor are they a necessity. But when they become yours "my father", rather than "a father", they are indispensable, irreplaceable.

Claim it or do not. There is no middle ground.

The conversation switches back to summertime, like a sinking boat with the leaks plugged slowly righting itself. The leaks plugged, the fear forgotten. Children are resilient, but not impervious. They mend, but they break.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Spring is here, although it often feels like it is playing a trick on us--
peeking out, only to slink away again, hiding through another cold and windy day.

Condensation on my skin feels like a whispered memory, rather than present tense
Perhaps I thought that winter would last forever.

Changing colors usher us into the Now, 
and I am chanting my mantra internally, waiting for good news. 
Not because I deserve it. Because it might come to pass. 

Changing lenses, I realize that I am not set up for failure,
 so much as I set myself up for endless possibility. 

One day, chance and good energy and opportunity will align,

For now, I sip my water and try not to sink.
It is Spring. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

on the prolonged and overlapping manner of grief.

There was a time that grief, confusion, distraction--motivated a kind of creative flow within me.
I can remember moments in which I had pure, rabid focus, so determined I was to forget my present circumstances, and delve into a world that I could predict, control.

To craft a sentence that states more than one thing.
To sing a song, which speaks to more than one person.
To make a play that says mouthfuls upon mouthfuls. Words that tell a story, a story that holds meaning.

Today, I stare at half-finished projects, listless resume spaces--unfinished and clumsy songs.
some internal strings have been cut, the hardware is outdated, dusty, ill-fitting.

How do I relate?
How do I tell you that our lives have felt the same struggles over the past year, only in different circumstances? Over the past five years, have we really been the same? Just in different keys?

Perhaps we have been singing a different tune all along.

It is as though
I am standing with my nose nearly touching a painting, unable to see the full picture in front of me. And if I step away, my nearsightedness is so demanding that the whole thing jumbles in patternlessness, it is meaningless.

How do I tell you that it feels as though the whole world is slapping my cheeks and telling me to wake up, get up, starting moving, keep moving, be strong..
And yet.
My first love. My best friend. My father. Gone in such different, yet permanent ways.


Yesterday, I saw a girl that looked like you. Same hair, same clothes, and with a similar manner of speaking.

I thought I was hallucinating, and momentarily wondered if  I have finally cracked,  tipping the scales of grief and tumbling into a sort of madness.

"excuse me, but you look like someone I used to know"

I discreetly take pictures, seeking confirmation of this fact from far away informants. I am relieved to find some level of commiseration. Deciding that this is not, in fact, a hallucination, makes conversation easier.

"you--actually, you look like someone I know as well",
she says.

It is a bricolage of memory-- pieces taken from different inhalations in time. There are parts missing---the gender is inverted and the hair colored in opposite-- like the negative of a photograph.

 The now and then smash together for a quick kiss before parting.

In an instant, I am reminded of the time he switched his black hair to white, and the white to black, only to be disappointed that it took me weeks to notice the difference.

we smile at one another, and I think about my past life for a moment longer, before I am flung back into the now. My nose trained, once again, to a dot on the painting.


I have a love. i have a family. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am doing the best that I can. My mantra, a flimsy protection against the will to never leave bed.

My father, my best friend, my first love.

My friend. My friend. My friend.

A person. A person. A person.

Again. Again. Again.

This too, will not pass.
He too, will never disappear from our lives.

We will carry them on our backs, stacked three high, and our muscles must become stronger. Our throats must learn not to close from sadness. our skin must toughen--it cannot turn to hives any longer. After enough time,there are no more allergic reactions to absence.

But it is an indiscriminate, an unpredictable time.

I do my job, but not much else. I come home. Depress guitar strings, but my father is at finger's reach, and I am quickly fatigued from the stretching.

Well-worn songs promote blindness. Certain stretches of highway may cause spontaneous combustion. Photographs are suspect. Ambition is arsenic.

She's given up, but not before a monstrous fight.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On Student Loans.

Let's take a moment to talk about Student Loans.

Let's talk about how everyone told us they were "no big deal", essentially "good debt" .
because they went toward expanding our opportunities in adult life.

Let's talk about how they tricked us. They duped us into believing that they could buy us stability, happiness, and the life we always dreamt.

Let's talk about how Student Loans can decide how much you can afford to pay, regardless of residential situation.

Let's talk about the moment you feel like you might be safe, able to save money, able to take a pay cut for a job you like--

--they rear their ugly heads in a stream of anxiety and panic, and quadruple in size.

Let's talk about Sisyphus and his boulder.

Let's talk about how we keep  aspirational, low-income Americans stuck in a cycle of debt and disappointment, while the upper-middle class shrugs its shoulders and continues to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.

let's talk about why I hate unpaid internships.
Let's talk about how truly evil they are.
How they dangle opportunities in front of our faces, only to pull them away at the last moment.
There are no guarantees.

There are no guarantees.

Let's talk about how four years in Ann Arbor got me $30,000 in debt and a job as a glorified secretary at an elementary school.

Meanwhile, my friends ask why I stay in a job where I'm so miserable, where my zest for life went, where my passion and plans flew away to.

they're in my wallet. They're draining out of my wallet. They drain it all, along with 20% of my paycheck.

And you wonder why I'm so bitter.