entangled like the night sky

November 9, 2020 Leave a comment

My dog Cash does a silly thing when he thinks there’s danger. Immediately, he springs into action, tail up, his Warning Bark on full blast. And he’ll come to get me to make sure I know there’s Trouble and then run back to its source to show me. It’s really smart and very Lassie, even if 9 times out of 10, the danger is not really a threat.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about danger, lately, about the desire to keep people safe. It is, more than anything else, an act of love. A selfless thing. Given the world we’re living in right now, it’s a lot harder than usual to do that. I’m someone who always protects what and who she loves, even if sometimes that means stepping in between someone and themselves. Sometimes, it means reaching out a hand, and sometimes, slapping someone upside the head. I never come at a conversation without the other person’s best interest at heart. I’m not quiet and I’m not shy, when it matters. I’ll walk into chaos without a second thought.

But it’s been pointed out to me recently I’m less accepting of the same in return. In fact, I’ll quickly change the subject or deflect. And that is, in fact, a defense mechanism. Because leaning on someone means they can let you down. Expecting someone to be there means they might not be. And years ago, in another lifetime, I had a conversation with someone who was close to me, who said the exact words to me that I needed to hear. Perfectly and preciously, as if he’d read the tea leaves of my soul. But in the end, those words were just that: words. Lies, perhaps, if you’re feeling less charitable. So, while I am still exactly me, other people be damned, there’s a part of me who—like Cash—will always startle at danger, real or imagined. Because I didn’t see that coming.

And, when it comes down to it, I know exactly how I love. I think those in my life know it too. But how do I need to be loved? Without walls, for starters. Without hesitation or pretense, the kind of steadiness that doesn’t feel like a held breath or anything close to a question mark. Enjambment, not ellipses. Polish and perfection are unimportant, and I love things that aren’t too neat or too easy, because I am neither. The deep stuff, the real stuff—the chaotic laughter and best mischief. The real conversations about fears and hopes, entangled like the night sky with innumerable stars, beautiful in all its darkness and light. The ease of bare feet and curiosity and quiet understanding, even when there’s disagreement. Not an expectation of neatness, but the mess that comes with an open mind and door and heart. A place without secrets or shame, made soft with warmth and all the things we need to be exactly who we are. Not kept small or quiet, surrounded by the particular appreciation that is both words and actions, that makes the bad days easier to bear simply by virtue of a tangible truth. Good love, honest love, earth-shattering love is just this: both safety net and freefall, both root and sky, both a wild thing and a soul-deep feeling of peace.

Andrea Gibson once wrote something beautiful about how they want to love: “Before I die, I want to be somebody’s favorite hiding place, the place they can put everything they know they need to survive, every secret, every solitude, every nervous prayer, and be absolutely certain I will keep it safe.  I will keep it safe.” And I think that’s really beautiful—to be loved that way.

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Reasons to Survive November

November 2, 2020 Leave a comment

(after Tony Hoagland)

November like a hurricane—
as if a storm made of anguish
had spoken itself into existence,
uprooting without mercy,
flinging roots, whenever your heart lays.

The world is fogged over, distant—
but my brother calls
on Sundays,
and I still want to meet
my best friend’s son,
hear his laugh for the first time.

—or maybe I’ll go to New York,
or cross an ocean, learn new faces
in a busy street, or show up
on your doorstep—
don’t worry if everything’s a mess—
so am I.

I know that sometimes, you think
you deserve to be alone,
hemmed in

by imperfections and old agonies,
heart like a locked door, mouth
full of old ghosts.

But anyone who tells you that
you aren’t worthy? They are the monster
that you think you are
on your worst day, and you deserve
to be here, and so do I,
sometimes, even if it’s just for spite—
survival doesn’t judge,

and maybe it’s enough
that somebody needs you,
that love keeps leaving offerings
at your door, over and over,
until unexpected candles
are burning—

and its light enough to see tomorrow,
bending your heart toward
what matters,
and I will be here like a hurricane,
purposed with kindness,
a storm made of unexpected
hope, uprooting
all the darkness,
until it’s overtaken
by the light.

Categories: Uncategorized

Instructions on Love

October 12, 2020 Leave a comment

A month or so ago, on Twitter, I wrote a thread about a few lines from Neil Gaiman that get me through the darker moments—that remind me to be brave when I need, that remind me of how much what’s in your heart matters. Often times, I look to bits of Neil’s writing (I call him Neil, because we’re totally BFFs…or that’s just, you know, his name) for reminding, for solace, for hope. More than any other writer, my heart immediately goes, “Neil will know,” and I open a book or an anthology and find the answer. Like magick.

Good writing is just that: magick. It’s all spellwork, really. But that’s a point for another day. The past few days, when everything has felt exceptionally chaotic, I’ve been pondering my upcoming birthday. When I was a kid, my mom always made a huge deal about birthdays, ruining me for all reasonable expectations. Then along came Sixteen Candles (a problematic movie, but one I have a soft spot for) and introduced me to Jake Ryan and the unreasonable desire to have a cute boy arrive with cake. And well, no one is Jake Ryan.

But the thing is: I don’t need anyone to be Jake Ryan. And I’ve been thinking on this, what I’d really like for my birthday is for you to do something for me. Normally, I’d ask you to go on an adventure or take a crazy risk. But not this year, at least not in the way you might think.

If you love someone, tell them. Tell them exactly why, even if you’re scared. Tell them they make your life better or make you laugh more than anyone else. Put it out there in clear words, even if you stumble or are scared—it doesn’t matter if it’s romantic love or not. The truth is, my darlings, love is always worth risking everything for, upending the world for, being brave for.

And sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, because the world is hard and hurt is never in short supply. We’re all carrying around scars from things we don’t often talk about, from people whose names we no longer say aloud. And while I have never regretted loving anyone, I have sometimes regretted not being more honest about it. Because even if things are insane and up in the air, who doesn’t need more love, especially right now? Real love, genuine and not conditional, meets you where you are. It doesn’t not require neatness or perfection. It doesn’t expect you to be anything, but who you are.

So, if you do one thing for me, speak up. Embrace what you love and who, no matter the odds or insanity. You can spend a whole lifetime being safe and neat, but that’s driving with the parking brake on. Being safe and contained won’t answer your text at 2am or at 2 in the afternoon, when you’re freaking out or excited. Being safe won’t make you laugh when you don’t even think you can. And I know, I know, this life is full of such and such madness, but surrounding yourself with those who make this mad world better is everything.

I may be an overzealous CareBear, but you cannot convince me that love doesn’t matter—and I don’t say that because I don’t know what it’s like to be hurt right down to the marrow. Or because I don’t know what it’s like to grieve the living and the dead. Or because I live in a fantasy world full of storybook endings. No, I say that because on bad days, it’s love and hope and kindness that get me through. It’s friends checking in. It’s loved ones listening when the day is hard. It’s showing up in a million ways, no matter how small a gesture.

And remember, at the end of the day, when everything is a mess and you’re feeling on edge—someone loves you, whether they’ve said it out loud or not. Hell, maybe it’s me. But if it’s me, chances are I will find ways to show that love long before I ever say it. Because that’s what love is, at the end of the day: gestures and actions we try—somewhat awkwardly—to mash into words. To heap into a shape that conveys how utterly brilliant you are, how valued, and how precious. Not because you are perfect, but because you are you.

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A Note on Certainty

September 24, 2020 Leave a comment

Lately, for obvious and not so obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about certainty. That feeling of deep knowing in your bones, with all the trimmings of cliché. I’ve had moments and situations in life where I’ve just known things, without a solid reason why. Call it intuitions or feelings—doesn’t matter. It’s nebulous. And that witchy little spider sense is never wrong.

But I’m not talking about that kind of certainty. When I was cleaning over the weekend, I found a note that my mother had written me, thanking me for making her birthday wonderful. As I might’ve mentioned in the past, she wasn’t fond of her birthday, so that was a Major Win. It was two years before she died, and I’d made a strawberry shortcake (my best friend and I did, actually) for the first time. It was almost a disaster cake, but it turned out spectacularly, even if we did have to staple a pastry bag to pipe on the writing.

…right, where was I? Ah, the note. I didn’t remember that note was stuck in a pile of papers I was sorting through, so it caught me off guard. It made me tear up, because…man, I miss her. She was never stingy with her affections, and she would tell you in no uncertain terms how she felt, for good or bad (remind you of anything?). And my whole life, I had that kind of certainty in an uncertain world (although, much less uncertain than the current insanity we find ourselves in).

Finding that note made me think about how much I cherish that. It made me realize how much I thrive on knowing that I matter, that something I did matter, that someone cares a certain amount—just because they do. I’m not particularly difficult or demanding person. But words do matter to me, because certainty matters to me.

I’ve been in too many situations where I’ve felt horribly uncertain. Even when I, to the best of my ability, tried to wrangle things into a better place. I’m completely upended by doubt sometimes, because my brain can be a jerk—and, frankly, people have been unkind. And there’s something particularly unsettling when a handful of people you’ve cared for deem you too much or only like you in halves or just…don’t fundamentally understand you. The world is full of people who only show up when it’s convenient. I’m not that kind of people.

Sometimes, I apply a filter to things that come out of my mouth, and sometimes, I do not. If it’s within my power to show kindness, I do. I make time for those I love without question or hesitation, even if I’ve just been crying over a note I found. Even if I’m having A Day. I talk too much and I say all the things, because what if that’s enough to turn a day around? What if what I’m saying matters?

I often joke that I love writing poetry, but if all I ever did was love people fiercely, it would be enough. And the trick is…it’s not really a joke. I mean that. I spent a lot of years trying to rein in how I care, to make it smaller and more malleable, easier to manage. I was never less me, but perhaps a little quieter than I otherwise would’ve been. And I’m actually still pretty mad about that, but that’s neither here nor there.

So, today, I’m still thinking about the gift my mother gave me—and how, even now, she somehow reminds me to stay true. There’s nothing wrong with making people feel appreciated and seen. In fact, it’s everything—even the smallest heap of words or thoughtful gesture can mean the world. After all, I still have that note, tucked away.

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Even If You Are a Wolf

August 25, 2020 Leave a comment

I used to think
every bruise would stay a bruise,
the way fingerprints trip
across a soul, how the sharp smell
of fire was a reminder
of all the things
and it was me, holding the matches,
burning the tinder,
it was me, counting out
all the details, adding up
every risk, like feelings
are arithmetic,
a problem easily solved,
easily dismantled,
with an outcome
you can point to.

When you learn shatter
enough times, you come to love
the mess of it, the practiced way
you can look into the future
and know—
this will all break eventually,
this will all turn to smoke,
this love will turn to grief

there’s comfort in knowing
the end is coming, fast
and full of knives,
a kind of suicide
without any witnesses.

But not here,
not this time,
even if you are a wolf,
even if you are afraid
of your own teeth—
we know the same wildness,
and I fear nothing,
and I have made peace
with every possible ghost,
the lurking monster
you think you see in the mirror—
but what if you’re wrong,
and what if I’m not?
I say, bring it,
I say, you don’t scare me,
I say, come here.

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And That Is How I Learned to Love

August 7, 2020 4 comments

My mother was a person who did the impossible, pretty much her whole life, despite circumstances that would’ve cowed a lesser person. I am impossible, but she overcame the impossible, and I think about her strength a lot.

She came from nothing, and despite being insecure, she had a solid sense of herself. Sometimes, my mom would tell me stories of growing up, and say something completely batshit without even blinking. And it was like, “Uh, mom, what do you MEAN you played in a funeral home basement?”

Despite being a strong person (sometimes, infuriatingly so), she was also kind. To basically anyone who showed up at our door. She’d shop for food and toss in things for my oldest, first ever friend. She’s stock up on snacks and chicken nuggets. There was almost always coffee and Entenmann’s something or other.

Usually, I talk about something cool she did. Like the time she made a hoop skirt out of wire hangers (for real and not in a in a Joan Crawford way) and sewed it into a very uncooperative pink dress—by hand. Who does that? My mother, who wanted her daughter to enjoy herself at a themed party. She did not, however, permit me to join the swimsuit competition at that birthday party, because, and I quote, “What the hell? Absolutely not.” I was eight.

One of the things I inherited from my mother is a sense of pride, sometimes to my detriment. I cannot stand to be made to feel less or not valued. It hurts, but I will cover that hurt with anger, and eventually, walk away from whatever—or whoever—made me feel that way. I do not stay where I am not wholly wanted, ever. I’d rather eat glass.

I have learned, perhaps, to temper that side of myself. But not always. Sometimes, it creeps in and makes me rash. I try not to let it, but the worst thing in the world for me is to feel unappreciated and unseen. And that is the quickest way to lose me. But life is too short to settle, to stay somewhere uncelebrated for who you are. Not less, not easier to deal with, not quieter or louder or someone else’s definition of who you should be.

And that is how I learned to love, too: entirely, without pretense, without trying to fit into a mold or shove someone else into one. My mother used to say, “I know you love me, but do you like me?” And that question used to break my heart every time, perhaps more so in retrospect. Because a lot of her life, she dealt with people not liking her for who she was. For me, I like you before I love you, and that’s how it works.

I learned, then, to pay attention to people. To figure out how they work, what their clockwork is, to learn their quiet and the places that ache—the ones, perhaps, never spoken about out loud. I, too, was the weird kid who liked to read. I, too, was a small nerd, proudly carrying around some geek thing or another. I wasn’t supposed to like Batman or the Ninja Turtles, but I did.

This ends with a deeper lesson: you are not here to fill a role, fit a prescribed definition of what/who you should be. Life isn’t about shoulds, and it’s not about pleasing other people to your own detriment. It is not about settling. That truth is etched in bones, and I have my mother to thank for it.

I wish some of you could’ve met her, known her. She would’ve tried to feed you, whether or not you wanted it. I think you would’ve liked her stories, but in their absence, you will simply have to make due with mine.

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For All the Things That Own Your Heart

July 17, 2020 Leave a comment

When the dark hits, where do you go?
Inside, where you remember
how nothing mattered, until
everything did, and that history
unravels in the silence,
but it is not silent—
and memory offers
an unhindered laugh, a gruff
softness, a steady hand,
and a mirror
for all the things
that own your heart.

When the dark hits, what do you say?
Everything, but not always in words,
instead giving the gift
of presence, a new sacred space,
a bit of humor
amidst the chaos,
the not-so-small grace
of loving every way you can—
thoroughly and without question.

When the dark hits, what do you feel?
Each howling ache, the way it builds
like heat, burning in the space
between here and there,
and yet, the light lingers,
a glint of remembrance,
of what was, what is,
and what will be.

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized

let honey spill

July 14, 2020 Leave a comment

The secret is there is no secret,
no matchstick mouth, no fire,
no fingers looking for water,
no skin slick as an ocean,
no sharp gasp
into the quiet—
this is your imagination,
nothing more.

But what if it isn’t?
What if the story
is a spine arching,
the way hips move
in the dark,
how a kiss
can feel like coming home,
how wanting
is a new freedom—
an impossible reckoning
that appeared, unexpected.

Let the old ruin
draw a single breath,
then cease. Let honey
spill where there has been
heartbreak, an offering
of sweetness instead of knives,
let aged grief cool
into something
you can put down—
release it, a kindness
where there was once teeth.

The truth is, there is no evidence
of any of this, only longing,
this slow-blink want
as unforgiving
as a shock of lightning,
and all desire is like this, really,
named or not,
spoken or otherwise—
hearts sparking against ribs
until everything is aflame,
and no one is asking
for forgiveness
or permission.

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On Love*

May 18, 2020 1 comment

Love is terrifying, isn’t it? Objectively, when you think about, there’s nothing rational about it. It’s being chased by wolves, almost stepping in a landmine, then hurling yourself off a cliff and hoping for the best.

When we go after love, we are either very brave or very foolish. Sometimes, both. Sometimes, you can’t really tell the difference. Maybe it doesn’t even matter. Maybe what matters is the ability to take a breath and walk into the darkness, a light in your heart, unsure of what you’ll find.

But to open yourself up to love—even the possibility of it—is to risk hurt. If you’ve been hurt before, you can feel it echoing in your soul, howling even. If you have known love and lost it, the agony is not unfamiliar. It is visceral and all-consuming. It is not timid or without teeth.

Neil Gaiman, in The Kindly Ones, struck a chord with this: “Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up this whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They don’t ask for it. They do something dumb one day like kiss you, or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so a simple phrase like “maybe we should just be friends” or “how very perceptive” turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. Nothing should be able to do that. Especially not love. I hate love.”

I’ve scribbled it everywhere for ages now. Love leaves you gasping that way, sometimes, because it isn’t always enough. You can, as it turns out, love someone who is incapable of loving you the way you need. You can also be loved by someone who can only glimpse, not hold, your heart. Love, as you probably know, is complicated—but it is also unmistakable, the kind of true thing that shakes you down to your core, if you are brave enough to let it. But I digress.

So, if you’ve loved and been shattered by it for whatever reason, you know. You know that it makes you unspeakably vulnerable. You have to show someone exactly who you are, not neatly, not guardedly. No, there’s nothing neat about you here. It’s showing your ugly face, your fears, your insecurities, your bad habits, your unspeakable stubbornness. It’s dropping the façade and the act, because you feel comfortable enough to. It’s finding joy in the ordinary things, like laughing over silly things on YouTube or swapping favorite songs or trying to decide whose brownie recipe is better (spoiler alert: I will always win that last one).

To open yourself up to love is to sharpen the knives and hope for the best. It’s not an action that makes sense, but truthfully? The best things in life aren’t about sense. They’re not what happens when you play it safe. They’re not an endeavor where you play by the rules. Maybe the rules are a lie, a fairytale, something to keep us in line. But to entertain the idea of love is to take a step forward knowing there might be pain, that people change, that wants change, that every can shift in a moment and change…forever.

So, given that love and loss can bring us shattered to our knees—why do we do it? Why do we jump off that cliff and hope for the best? It’s not machoism, most of the time. It’s hope—that it will be different, that it will work out, that we will see and be seen, not as some glammed-up version of ourselves, but the true one. It’s the desire that someone will calm our souls, laugh at the same jokes, buy you plants they don’t understand just to make you smile.

The truth is that love is worth risking everything for. It’s worth cracking yourself open. Because that connection, when it’s right and true? It’s everything—even when it’s ridiculous and messy and full of nonsense and surprises. It’s literally just the whole fucking point of this mad existence, and you won’t ever convince me otherwise.

I’ve closed down a few times in my life. I’ve broken down and shut doors. I’ve slept with that agony of loss, convinced it was a comfort—maybe feeling like it was earned. There was a moment in my life, years ago, where I just couldn’t fathom that “soul-hurt” again. I was done. More recently, too, I’ve wondered about this in others—if we all are afraid of the same thing. Perhaps we are, perhaps that is human nature.

And eventually, I remembered a very specific truth. When we lose someone we love, it makes us afraid of love to a degree. It makes us wary; it makes us ache. When that absence fills with silence and darkness, it’s so easy to become afraid. It’s so easy to list all the reasons why even entertaining the idea is a bad proposition.

But what if it isn’t?

Because the other side of that coin is that losing someone can also make you love harder, more fiercely—when the opportunity presents itself. It can make you throw out the rulebook and not take a moment for granted. When you’ve lost something—someone—that seems un-survivable, you can find such a surprising, quiet strength.

I have always been someone who runs toward something, someone, not away. I rarely engage with anyone who doesn’t, in one way or another, set my soul on fire. Because, truly, who has time for tepid or tame? It’s my belief that the opportunity for love is something to be embraced, even when it scares you, perhaps especially then. It’s hard to risk it, because there’s always a lot to lose. And we’re all vessels for heartache, beyond our control in so many unpredictable ways.

But love—deep, messy, ridiculous love—even when it’s gone, it leaves such beauty behind. The really surprisingly thing from all the best stories is true: finding someone you can be 100% yourself with, no matter how petty or insecure or vulnerable—that’s everything. There are people in this world who will always leave you better than they found you, simply by the gift of who they are. People who have known darkness, but still lean toward the light. People who have fractured their own hearts or had them stolen by careless hands. People who love without expectation or reason.

Because there’s nothing reasonable about it. There’s nothing small or easily managed about it. Love, pure and simple, is extraordinary. And that’s why it’s always worth it, no matter the wolves, no matter the landmines, no matter the heights of that cliff.

*This was, most definitely, a nod to Chekhov

Categories: Uncategorized

Just to Let the Light In

This is what it’s like:
a heartbeat full of knife-sharp
memories, a counting of ribs
to compensate
for when it all goes wrong,
the ravenous promise
that devours
reason in the wake of silence—
we were all ghosts once,
and will be again,
it’s just a matter of time.

I spent years with open hands
and a hungry heart, mouth kissed
until my soul was starving,
and now there is wine
and a steady offering of want,
but what if it’s all feathers
and no bird? What if the song
is just in my head?

Eventually, all the sharp things
start to dull, but only if you speak
softly, only if you understand
that a broken past
can be beautiful too,
that a girl made of miracles
has been too often
taken for granted,
found wanting, measured
by a hundred scars
someone else
disavowed making.

I lit the candles,
but all the darkness
is still playing in the background,
things buried like bones,
no sleep and too much grief,
the wrong mythology
for love, hollowed out,
wearing the wrong names.

Come here,
I want to break everything
just to let the light in—
no matter what happens,
no matter the howling
of a heart,
this is still true.

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