Attention Must Be Paid

 

I can’t remember the last time
I woke up
and the world wasn’t terrible—
and this is my privilege,
me, a white girl
who’s never had to run
from bullets, who won’t
take the late train
home,
who always parks
under a street light,
and carries keys
as a weapon (just in case).

Me, a white girl
who doesn’t
have to be afraid
to wear a black hoodie,
to have a broken taillight,
to sell CDs,
to hold a toy gun,
to buy cigarettes,
to exist.

I can’t remember the last time
I woke up
and didn’t want to look away
from everything. Instead,
I make myself look,
watch, take note,
speak up
even though it hurts—
this, too, is my privilege.

I am not under fire.
I am not someone
anyone is afraid of
for arbitrary reasons.

Too many men
eat fear like candy.
Instead of teeth,
it rots souls,
seducing them
into action, greedy
as any addiction—
don’t let it win.

Do you hear me?
Don’t let it win.

Categories: poem, poems, Uncategorized, Writing

A Thing That Happened: On Creepers, Creeping

June 22, 2016 3 comments

 

 

A few years ago, I switched gas stations. This particular one was convenient. It was a better price. But the guy who owned it/worked at it? He was a creeper. He repeatedly told me I’m beautiful (fine, okay, whatever). Then, he started to ask if he could paint me. He’s a famous artist of some sort, and he’s been featured in a book. And I should totally look him up. He told me there was nothing untoward about it. I could bring my boyfriend, if I wanted.

 

Every time I stopped there, he would ask me this. Try and convince me to sit for him. And sure, it was flattered. I’ve had good friends draw me before (shoutout to Dani!), but the last straw was when he asked me, insistently, that I shake my hair for him. Because it was beautiful. I’m not going to lie: I did. Because I wanted him to stop. I wanted him to shut up.

 

I also never went back there again, and I’d rather run out of gas than go there.

 

Since then, I’ve been going to a particular place. It has good prices. Everyone is nice. Until a few months ago, when they hired a New Guy. The first time I met New Guy, he asked where I lived (“Down the road.”). He peppered me with weirdly invasive questions and raised my hackles. New Guy isn’t there every time I go, so I put up with it. Because it’s either go to that gas station or pay more. And since gas is freaking expensive as hell, no.

 

This morning, I stopped for gas. New Guy hooked me up to the pump, then came back and leaned in my passenger’s side window. I was polite. I’m always polite. I’m not overly friendly. I do not flirt. He asked if I was going home. I said no. Work. He then asked where I worked. I broke eye contact and began staring at the steering wheel. I gave him a vague answer. He kept staring, and I kept not speaking.

 

He then told me that I looked good. I said thank you, and I kept looking at the steering wheel. I just wanted him to go away. And yes, it was in broad daylight. And no, I wasn’t in any physical danger. There were other people there. There weren’t any overt threats.

 

But I also couldn’t leave, until I was unhooked from the pump. And believe me when I say, I felt tremendously uncomfortable. Leaning into my car window is invasive. Asking personal questions is invasive. I had to sit there, with a random dude hanging in my window, asking me personal questions.

 

I couldn’t leave. I didn’t feel SAFE. And there was nothing I could do. It was alarming. So, now, I have a choice: go back and be rude (because I’m not going to smile anymore) or pay more for gas. And, look, gas is expensive. It sucks that I have to decide whether or not I’m harassed or pay more money. All I wanted was to get gas and NOT be seriously creeped out.

 

Instead, I went from one dipshit to another. You might ask WHY women feel unsafe. You might ask why we get freaked out. You might ask why we all go to the bathroom in a pack. Guys, THAT is why. Because I can’t even buy gas without bullshit.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Hold the Floor

June 19, 2016 1 comment

 

The place changes:
school,
movie theater,
church,
club,
but a man with a gun
and hate
is always merciless.

Safe spaces,
except the stage directions
now read: run, hide,
fight.

We tell our children to
shelter in place,
while others
are counting the bullets.

We tell our children
I’m sorry this happened
to you—the world
shouldn’t be like this.

And yet.
And yet.
And yet.

We are stuck
finding new names
for grief, because
we’ve used the others
so often
they’ve gone numb,
limp,
paler than the promise
that tomorrow
will be better.

If a woman
on the train is wearing a hijab,
leave her alone.
Remember that American
means a thousand
different things,
and one of them is Muslim.

We are
a nation of immigrants,
standing on land
that was someone else’s first,
so unless you are Native
American, sit down.
We are a nation
of Protestants and Quakers,
we are a Nation
of every god and no god,
we are a nation
of mistakes,
but the only un-repairable one
is when we stop trying
to do better.

Forget our children
for a moment,
and remember that
we, too, deserve better.
Further still,
we are the ones
capable of change.

A man from Connecticut
stood on the Senate floor,
asking for change, demanding it,
tallying the hours
against the lives lost
to bullets. Hold the floor,
and he did. But more than that,
he held the heart of a nation
and offered
hope
for a basic, common good.

Senator,
thank you. To all those
who joined him, thank you.
To the rest of you:
be on the right side
of history. Do not join
the Trail of Tears,
the Japanese Internment Camps,
the No Blacks Allowed.

Don’t apologize.
Don’t try to tourniquet
the wound
with words.
Don’t cover the dead
with dirt and walk
away—look at their faces.
Say their names.
Read their stories.

Keep your thoughts and prayers.
Instead,
do the right thing.

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized

Snap Out of It: On Bravery

June 10, 2016 2 comments

It’s funny, sometimes, how often we put up with something, because we think we have to. For whatever reason, it’s good. It’s deserved. It’s honest. It’s justified. It’s necessary. It’s the only way. Ad nauseum. We go along to get along, because in a strange way, it’s almost easier. A familiar cage, regardless of the damage it does, is at least a known difficulty. Otherwise, what’s next? Otherwise, what’s out there? Otherwise, what might happen?

The dangerous, wonderful thing is that everything might happen. And that can be scary, because there are always too many variables to account for. So, you stay stuck in the mud. Smile pretty. Pretend that you like it. But really, when it comes down to it, you’re just hanging around in wet dirt. There’s nothing pretty or honest about it.

People are often dead scared of the loss of control that comes with making changes. Of following your heart. Of honor what inspires passion in you. But to quote my wise, badass, brilliant friend Deanna Raybourn, “But this is a thing that I know–to live with fear is not to live at all. A man will die every moment he is afraid.”

Fear is the worst kind of bully. It lives in your head. It pulls out all your biggest worries. It hurls what-ifs and regrets at you from the inside, when you’re at your weakness. It reminds you of the look n your mother’s face when you’ve disappointed her. It offers you the low, disapproving whistle of friends and colleagues. It hands you a sharp blade made of everything bad that you carry with you, past sins and those that don’t even belong to you. Things that simply hang over your head and maybe always have. Fear holds that blade to your throat and tells you to stay put. To stay within the lines. To bleed if you have to, but don’t you dare or be different. Don’t blink. Don’t breathe. Just stay.

Darlings, if I may offer some wisdom: screw that. There’s nothing noble or worthy of suffering. There’s nothing beautiful about pain. There’s nothing glorious about allowing yourself to stay small, just to keep other people happy. There’s nothing charming or wise about rooting yourself to a rotted foundation, moment, or idea. It’s the opposite, really. It’s cowardly. It’s knowing there’s possibility out there, and eating the same bag of shit, day in and day out. Because, hey, at least you have that bag of shit. Some people don’t even have that.

Right. But at the end of the day, you’re still shoveling crap into your face and calling it necessary. It’s not. One of the most important things in this life is to surround yourself with people who encourage, love, and support you. Who might tell you when you’re being stupid, but in a nice way. Those handful of folks who always have your back and who always cheer you on, near or far. No matter the distance or how much time has passed. Because, yes, you need to be brave to start with. You need to make the choice to be brave.

But, sometimes, you always need a Moonstruck Cher to slap you across the face and tell you to snap out of it. Because life is finite. And love isn’t. Because the days all contain the same 24 hours, but our hearts contain whole universes. Because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, but this breath—right now—is.

I was talking about bravery, yesterday. It’s not an absence of fear. It’s never that. It’s often not even actually feeling competent at all. It’s taking a deep breath and doing the thing anyway, even if you feel like throwing up. I don’t know anyone who is truly fearless. That’s a word we use when someone is terrified, but is also hell-bent on being a badass. Me? I’m scared all the time. I’m scared about a lot of things. I’m a chronic overthinker, who worries and fusses like a champ. I run through conversations, real and possible, in my head. I examine things from a ridiculous number of angles. I am not good at letting things lie, and I don’t know how to calm down sometimes. So, yeah, even if I look collected and at ease, chances are, my emotions are dialed up to 11—and my brain’s on hyperdrive.

However, scared or not, I’m still here. Which means I owe it to myself to be scared, but not let the fear own me. It means that I still have a chance to accomplish something, to change, to achieve, to the thing—to alter my fate, if you want to look at it like that.

I’m a girl who believes in singing along to the radio at the top of her lungs. I believe that hanging out with your best friend may not solve all problems, but it sure dulls them. I believe in laughter at 3am, tequila, and pasta. If I love you, I’ll feed you. It’s not up for debate. You’re eating. I believe in T-shirts and photographs. Feeling the grass between your toes in the summer, because shoes are optional. Cartwheels and hammocks are equally fun. The beach is a balm to the soul, and there’s nothing a glass of wine and a good joke can’t help. I believe in the power of words and the way your name can sound safe in someone’s mouth. I believe in doing the impossible, because someone says it can’t be done. (Yeah, screw that asshole. He ain’t seen nothing yet.) I believe in getting up every time you fall, because pain doesn’t mean you quit. And screwing up never means giving up on what matters. And what matters to you? Deep down in your bones and heart? What sets you on fire and brings an unbidden smile to your face? You fight like hell to keep that stuff in your life. No matter how difficult, you throw down. Tape up your hands and take a swing. Because you give for what you love, darlings. Always.

At the end of the day, I know how to walk through fire. I know how to hold still in a hurricane. I know how to get knocked down and haul myself back on my feet. It’s not because I’m a paragon of virtue or awesomeness. I can’t perform an actual miracle. I’m the furthest thing from perfect you’ll find in the tri-state area. But my momma taught me not to cower to bullies, not even those in my own head. She taught me that you fight for what you believe in—and to always believe in myself.

So, maybe you’re sitting there looking at your life, terrified, wondering what-if. Maybe you’re trying to do the impossible. Maybe you’re surrounded by naysayers and assholes. Maybe you’re trying to find out how big your brave is, because you want something. Maybe you’re in love, but you don’t know how to say it—or those words just plain old scare you.

If you are, hear me right now: you are capable. You are worthy. You are a badass, and don’t let anyone make you think you don’t deserve what makes your heart race. You weren’t made to apologize or beg. You weren’t made to spend your life stooped and stuffed into a box. You were made to shine like a goddamn supernova.

Go out and do just that.

This Is the Poem I Am Writing Instead

“This poem is the poem I am writing because we aren’t speaking,
and it is making my heart hurt so bad, it is all I
can do just to get up off the floor sometimes.” ~Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

 

What I don’t do
is admit
I’d rather break
all my bones
than feel this.

What I don’t do
is eat enough.

What I don’t do
is sleep.

What I don’t do
is laugh.

I am cracked
down the middle, heart
leaking things
I can’t name or catch,
every river
in my body is flooding
and I can’t make it stop.

Tell me, where’s the pill for this?
The fifth drink
of rum that burns enough
to chase out the pain.

Tell me, where’s the tourniquet for this?
The blackout drunk promise
of forgetting, undoing
all the tangles in my soul,
so that something (anything)
makes sense.

Tell me, how to stop drowning
in my own skin. Tell me
how to learn to breathe
something other than grief.
Tell me
I matter. Tell me
I mean something. Tell me
you remember my name
even on days
you can’t speak it.

This is what it feels like:
the slow tick
of a bomb in my stomach,
the scald of being
lit on fire from the inside,
but nobody sees it.

The truth is
I can’t remember the last time
I said I was fine
and actually meant it.

The truth is
I feel like an actor
playing myself,
saying things
that seem right,
hitting every mark
like a champion,
a consummate professional
liar.

The truth is
I can’t even tell where
it hurts, because
all of me is howling,
a snarl
of mourning, the steel trap
of this secret.

This morning, I wondered
a terrible thing,
but like everything else,
I couldn’t stop it:
would it matter to you
if I died? Would
you miss me?

What I don’t do
is ask.

Categories: poems, Poetry, Uncategorized

A Stitch in Time

May 8, 2016 7 comments

Within a certain realm, my mother could fix anything. A ripped seam. A tangled necklace. My unruly hair. And, on numerous occasions, me. There, her tools were a kind of magic that doesn’t fall easily into words. Often, it was simply a look different from any other and either a raised eyebrow or a simple question.

Then, she would listen. Sometimes, she would shake her head. Sometimes, she would tell me I was an idiot. Other times, still, she would rage at whomever or whatever had caused her baby girl a headache. Over the years, the list of offenders grew long, as lists do, but they’re all just ghosts in this story. What matters – what mattered – was the listening. The being present and invested in the kind of way that, maybe, only a mother can be – one who has seen and loved since the beginning.

Last year, I taught myself how to hem, so that I could remove the sleeves of a T-shirt that are too constricting to be anything but annoying. My stiches, though small, were uneven and somewhat veering. This, like all skills, is something that comes with time. Like a number of things, it’s something I’ve had to reacquaint myself with in the wake of my mother’s death.

It’s been nearly four years, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. People, well-meaning, will lie directly to your face with the shiniest kindness. They will say it gets better, but it doesn’t. It just gets different. It is, as best as I can tell, the emotional equivalent of losing a limb. Something essential that was there all your life is gone. And nothing can replace what’s missing. You just learn to live, to cope, without it.

One of the many things she taught me, though, was the importance of listening. Not just hearing the words and waiting to get your say in. But attending to the sentences and the feelings behind them, being present in that moment, and really communicating. So many people are simply there, but not there. So many people hear, but do not hear. You can blame all kinds of things for affecting the way we do, and do not, communicate: the internet, cellphones, texting. In a world where communication is often instant, words are sometimes consumed as fast food. And it really is all too easy to stop putting in the effort, to stop being fully present, and to stop paying attention to what’s being said – and, perhaps, what’s not being said. It takes effort, and in this everything-on-demand world, people have often grown lazy – careless with our attention and reckless with our inattention.

But I am, thanks to my mother, an excellent listener. I am a better listener than I am a talker, unless I trust you without hesitation. Or there’s tequila involved. Even then, I can still be guarded. Most people do not realize this. Most people are fooled by a wide smile and a well-timed joke. But that’s another thing my mom taught me: people see what they want to see. People believe what they want to believe. And like creating an amazing Halloween costume, it is the details that matter, that fill out the picture. (My mother, it should be noted, once handstitched a Batgirl costume for me, complete with utility belt. Unfortunately, this was the summer I first moved south, and the particular town we lived in didn’t trick-or-treat. That was only discovered after knocking on several houses and the occupants giving seven-year-old me quizzical looks, as if I was a strangely dressed beggar. All I succeeded in getting that evening was…an apple. I’m still mad.)

There is a long-running joke in my family that I cannot sew to save my life. As a kid, I was fascinating by sewing. I would often steal an old shirt of my father’s to practice on, stitching on a pocket (I don’t know why I thought a pocket would be cool; kids are weird). I am certain it never quite resembled a pocket at all. But I like the idea of patching up, of creating, of somehow taking something and making it better.

As you might already suspect, I get that from my mother. If she could fix it, she would. If she could make it better, she did. If she could help, she helped. And that is a gift she gave me that, perhaps until recently, I didn’t quite understand. I am not one to sit idly by when someone is hurting or having a hard time. I am not a sidelines person. I’m in the game. I jump in, full-hearted, arms open. I will always hug you. And I don’t know how to love in small measures, because love is not a small thing. It’s a miracle made of starlight and bone, blood and madness, skin and madness. She taught me, by example, that it is something you fight for, no matter what. And on days where I need reminding of that, on days where I need more strength that I can find within myself, I wear her opal ring (borrowing it only). Because it reminds me of everything she was, everything she went through and strove for, never letting life make her jaded and bitter. Never letting her doubt herself or her own heart, even when it would’ve been all too easy to.

I suppose, in a way, my mother is still working her magic. It isn’t just in the things she left behind or the skills she taught me. It’s the way in which she lives in my memory, woven like thread into each moment. She showed me how to listen, how to love, and how to take a stand.

I can’t hear her voice, anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still listening.

 

Trouble

April 28, 2016 Leave a comment

My body was a lit match
in the wind when you
last called me dangerous.
I was a caged river, longing
for a flood, reckless
within acceptable boundaries.

What I wanted was an invitation,
the word yes waiting
on your tongue
for me to find it, hands
reborn electric, each finger
a lightning strike
of don’t stop
and just let go.

But I dare you
to imagine me now,
free and brazenly unfinished,
lungs ready to shout
toward heaven, my holy
heart a single shade of scarlet,
my hips a reminder
of how good it feels
to want, then give,
then get.

Every possible spark
is ours, if you whisper
my name on your knees,
say please, say like this,
say right there, say
what you want,
and I will show you
the full fire
of dangerous,
go ahead
and try me,
I’m right here—
it’s time for you to come.

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized
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