Archive for September, 2013

The Only Way Out Is Through

Posted: September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

writing poetry

Here is how we whistle for hammer head sharks
–steely torpedoes awaiting to be soft served
in bowls of sweet meat we won’t finish before dark–
let them swim to a shoreline of 1000 suns curved
like so many jaws, abutments of bone between now
& minutes shook hence in tremors before
this island volcanos elegant quake. You plow
& toe the black baked soil, flick ashes shore
while I keep losing gravity & waves exhale & spray
tracing the beach & its foam shifting spine, sand
zipping noisily beneath your feet. You can’t look away
until a typhoon of blood pulls down the roaring firmament and
a kind of death runs its language along your thigh.
Such a shame you can’t look your rescuer in the eye.


Form makes me uncomfortable. Its like putting together a puzzle instead of allowing the poem to just happen and, ahem, form itself. When I look at a poem born of form, my critical mind just looks at how well I adhered to the rules, not whether the poem is good or excites me or not.

But its been hard to write the last couple of weeks. Depressed, I guess. Infected with Why Bothers. I was happy to have found and settled with Touch (Abstraction) the other day, brain exercise I created out of desperation and boredom to create work. So here’s another bid to work through my block. Sometimes the only way out…

Touch (Abstraction)

Posted: September 24, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,


There are hospitals where hands are a type of medicine
I smooth the tremulous lines along your temples with my palm
In these cellular rooms, bodies are worshipped in religions of disrepair
We burden our mouths to carry more than language

I align your tremulous temples in the rooms of my palm
There are hospitals where medicines are better than hands.
In these mouths, bodies become religions and are worshipped with tongues.
We trust our language to carry more than we understand.

I align your cellular temples with hospitals and hands,
hospitals and hands– that burden our medicines with lines of disrepair
We praise the smooth bodies in our mouths with psalms of worship.
We trust our tremulous language more than religions.

My palms carry sparkling medicines into your temple
Our bodies doen’t understand worship or religions
We cannot trust our language any more than our mouths.
Some temples are better than hospitals and some medicines useless.

Every. Body. I. Worship. Suffers. Tremulous Religions
carried in the hands of language.

–jcagney 2013

Lunch Hour

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

lunch hour

I sat at the statue on the corner waiting for him. For at least two weeks I’ve practiced being present and focusing on my breath. For those 10 minutes I breathed with presence and Not Thinking so nicely it would have been okay if he didn’t show up.

But I wanted to be present. I wanted to bring nothing into whatever our conversation would be. I wanted to just let him bring it.

Across from me, a bakery window. Two chatting employees laughed, hard. I remembered once years ago buying a baggie of weed from a brother who worked there named Worm. Otherwise, around me the parade of office workers and backpacked kids.

Finally, my friend strolled up. Reed thin in a grey shirt, matching slacks and huge reflective sunglasses. I am 15 years older than he is, and now that he’s 30 and no longer the 21 year old I’d met and once worked with, I can site the new maturity in him and I like this version a bit more than the manic, non-listening lightning strike he was just a few years ago.

All of the lunches we’ve had with him, he never eats. We walk and talk, circling around directionless, stopping in a clothes store where he expects shoes or garments with white glove detail. This time was no different, and I was glad I’d already eaten. We shook, and briefly caught up. Any time he asks questions now, I’m caught off guard. His 21 year old wouldn’t listen. The 30 year old does. But I still keep feeling like I need to hurry to the point before he loses interest and says politely: I Hate To Cut You Off.

O-kay… Not everyone thinks in images. Not everyone likes poetry.

It didn’t take long for him to come out with it. How his aunt was shot and killed last weekend at a party. Adult night skating at a rink. Four were shot, three wounded. Hers was the only death. The suspects haven’t been caught.

He’s not angry. Tell the truth, he said. I dont feel anything. Everything happened so quick. My cousin called, didn’t say she was in the hospital or nothing. He called and said she’s dead and that was it.

I asked if the funeral happened already.

He said she was a Jehovah’s Witness– so there’d be no funeral.

And she was an organ donor. She was shot Saturday and by Thursday, cremated.

What memorial there was, he and a few close members of his family missed it by 10 minutes. She’s just gone. Her two sons, suddenly given blinders and expected to move on.

Everything happened so fast, he said.

Were you real close, I asked.

You saw her last name, he said. She was That Aunt to me.

He told me the last three times he saw her. The second time was in Costco, just at random. He ended up shopping with her, pitching in some money and joining her for the rest of the day. The third time was just last month, he said. The day his grandfather was released from the hospital.

She was That Aunt who kept the family together, was the one to organize reunions and kept people fed and whatnot. He wonders now if he’s expected to take up the slack without her. Especially where her sons were concerned. He’ll probably Just Do It anyway.

I told him I felt him. I told him that I didn’t have any family. That all the people I felt closest to were gone. Even in my biological family. The folks who kept me in the mix were erased thru a cancer of one type or another. But he and I didn’t share wounds. We shared his second cousin whom I went to high school with. He mentioned her by name, since his aunt and his cousin were very close and I told him I remembered his cousin.

Serious? He said. Why have you never told me this? (–I once thought I did–) What was she like back then?

Truth: We didn’t kick it like that. But I knew her, I said. I liked her. I even remember seeing her on a game show many years ago. Supermarket Sweep.

We walked into a phone store. The Greeter was cool and helpful… if not fine enough. “If you’re gonna be greeting people at the door,” he said. He shrugged and shook his head.

He handed the woman behind the counter his phone and a package of protective screens. She disappeared in the backroom and I joked she’ll probably switch phones on you. He said: I was just thinking that.

But she came back, handed him his newly protected phone and we parted ways at the door. He said we’ll have lunch again. Maybe Friday. I would like that, I said.

White Van, Shattered Mirror

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


I was hit by a van this morning.

My first day back at work after taking half of my birthday week off, and this happens.

At the intersection, I waited for a huge, slow moving blue bus to lumber to the corner and do a meditative right turn.

The light changed as the bus was turning.

Behind the bus, less a half block, was a white delivery van. The van stopped.

I began crossing the street.

The van’s driver hit the accelerator.

I didn’t take it personally. But to see the van speed towards me from about 10 feet away was, in a word, a surprise.

The driver’s side hood slammed into me. It wasn’t going fast, really. I held up my arms to push myself back from the passing van. Clumsy impact. I punched the driver side hood. It wasn’t hard enough to take me off my feet or be hurt.

The driver stopped (for a microsecond I thought he might keep going) opened the door and apologized.

I apologized back– I thought the light was for me, I said. It was.

I kept walking. And kept thinking… about fathers.

The previous day, I sat with family, who seemed to stare through me to say how much I resembled my father. Because I had been adopted and raised by another family, I never met my biological father– who died a few years before I met my biological family. I often feel myself turning into someone I don’t know. To stare at myself in the mirror (which I can’t do) is to gaze at a kind of common stranger– the person I see regularly, but whom I don’t know.

Like the van’s driver. I’ve been to the business the van delivered for, and when the panicked driver got out, I recognized him– but not by name. In my memory, he’s labeled as “oh, the dude from that place.”

I wonder … if part of me looks at my own reflection with that same kind of tolerant familiarity. Me: the known unknown.

The woman who hugged me yesterday, whispering ‘baby brother’ in my ear, saying how much I looked like ‘her daddy’, is my sister– but not. She’s not a sister I trust enough with my story. She’s not someone I could call and talk with freely or whom I could trust would really hear me. She is not someone I could pick up the phone and say: I need you or want to see you or even… I love you. She is my sister, but she is not family.

The older woman with me on the sofa, the one moaning and groaning about getting older, how good it was to see me, and who kept looking at me calling her long dead husband’s name, is my mother… But she is not a mother to me. I speak the word ‘mother’, but my heart says Nothing. My heart says: here’s the woman who chose not to keep me. Here’s the woman I’m to forgive and love anyway and cannot. Here’s the woman around whom my heart feels homeless.

Near sunset, my ‘sister’ and ‘mother’ offered a ride down the hill back to the Bart station. I jumped in the backseat, with a young woman and her infant daughter and I sat next to my great neice who angled her back towards me, offering the same that I’d given her… nothing.

I remembered her as a tiny child; us playing beneath the living room table at my ‘moms’ house. She does not.

My great neice her friend and I all got out the car together. The young ladies unfolded the baby carriage while I offered goodbyes to my mother and my sister who reminded me: You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.

So… I walked across a footbridge, with my great neice and her friend pushing a baby carriage. My neice pushed down on the carriage to jump the sidewalk, but it went sideways and stuck. My neice kept pushing it forward, instead of lifting it up. I picked up the front of the carriage and she pushed it forward and the two girls and I walked on to the station.

Did she look at me? Thank me? Smile? Grunt?

It felt… awkward. How we were related, yet less than strangers. It was half her being a teenager and half her… well, I don’t know.

The girls didn’t talk and I walked along with them. Anyone seeing us would have thought we didn’t know each other. And we didn’t.

We arrived at the station, but they walked past the gate– presumably to move towards the elevator. Never looking back, not talking. I wanted to say goodbye or say: its good to see you, or wishing you well or hug her or kiss her or wave or something. I heard a train pull in two stories above. I saw my great neices’ narrow back and the long, solid strides she and her friend made behind the carriage. I said nothing and ran upstairs.

…I don’t know or understand what I expect from family, or even myself. Identity for me is a shattered mirror whose different shapes reflect slightly different stories.

Earlier this weekend, I spent the night over my best friends’ house. This after hanging out with him and his mom and watching the Maywether fight. I woke on their couch in the living room, comfortable, warm and welcome. I felt more family love in one night on my friends couch than in all the years navigating the family I belong to by blood. My friend is more a brother to me than my four older brothers combined.

My cell phone woke me by surprise– It was the aunt I’d grown up with. My adoptive mother’s sister, the only relative from my childhood I’m still in touch with. She’s in her 80’s.

I told her I was alright. I told her I was sorry I hadn’t called in a while– the last couple of weeks, I’d felt down. She said she saw it was my birthday ‘on a piece of paper’ she had. I told her the people I was with was like family to me. I told her everything except how sincerely I loved them, which I did. I told her, with them I felt like I did when my mother was alive. She said she was happy that I sounded happy, in spite of just waking up on a couch wrapped in a comforter after a night of drinking. I told her how later that day I was going to have brunch over my neice’s house… I told her I did connect with my biological family, but that it sometimes felt weird and didn’t always feel like home to me. I asked about her adult children, my cousins whom I don’t talk to any more. In spite of one getting out of jail and another wrestling with drugs, she said they were alright. We both said how good it was to hear one another’s voices.

Looking over my life is like looking into a shattered mirror. I am still t/here, whole even, amidst everything before me being so broken. Reminder: I’m not broken. its just when looking at the entire picture everything seems shattered. But to look at the individual moments, to focus on the pieces that make the whole, this is my life’s goal on the road to peace.

This morning’s accident? That’s what being told I was adopted felt like. Having something slam into you out of nowhere and then leaving you… just leaving you… to somehow go on with it.