Archive for July, 2014

openheart

My heart felt like a closed fist urgently knocking against my sternum. That’s not a metaphor or bad opening line; its a description. My chest felt knotted and angry. I was angry. There’s a plethora of reasons why. But I’m writing this because of the moment I felt it stop and open.

Earlier this week I went to an open mic, invited there by my friend. I arrived early and she was already posted on one of the couches with her laptop. She was with a man who, once I entered and sat across from them, he rose, finished his sentence and walked out. I took his seat. It was like entering her office. She ran a quick list of what she’d done earlier that day, then dove back into her laptop. I sat across from her and after a while pulled a book out of my backpack.

But not many were here– most of the bodies seemed behind the counter. We talked for a while and I thought maybe nothing else was going to happen. But gradually folks began coming in. This open mic is much more community friendly, much warmer than any other opens I’ve been to. The facilitator is so loving, a perfect rendering of Conscious California, she turns the open into something closer to group therapy and church than just a round-robin of performers. They incorporate projected video and slide shows. An artist walked us through his collection of amazingly detailed paper mache animals. A gay couple celebrated being together 19 years– five of those married– and were given their own cake. The rest of us got tiny cupcakes. A woman played an original instrumental on her guitar. Another woman sang a capella. A professional puppeteer performed.

I was there in order to read one poem– a meditation on the word Sorry.

***

“I think maybe I’d like to apologize… but who to?” Robert Blake, as Perry, last words before being executed in the film: In Cold Blood.

I was adopted. Which is shorthand for saying: I feel strung between two families, two identities I can do nothing with. The family who raised me have died. The family I belong to by blood, I walked away from feeling I didn’t belong there.

Maybe 10 years after meeting my biological mother, she apologized to me. For birthing me, For what I went through. She did this from her kitchen, me listening to her story while she massaged floured dough for bread. I listened to her story. I don’t remember saying much back.

Told me she was: Sorry
I’d been born
hungry, loveless, kicking like a fish in a bassinet…
A pre-natal hole through my heart
As if her body were rejecting me like a plastic organ

I loved your father, but… She said.

Read: I loved your father except
When it involved you…
She said

Later that weekend, I was home, shaving, staring at myself in the mirror. My mind replaying that conversation. And from somewhere I asked myself: What exactly did that apology change?

Nothing. That sorry worked about as well as the sorry you’d give a group of hungry children at your kitchen table when you walk in empty handed. Sorry. No food today.

“Sorry”, right then, ceased to have meaning for me and became a word I no longer wanted to rely on to fix or change or acknowledge an unintentional error or slight.

I don’t want to mislead you or lie: I’ve apologized to others since that moment, I’ve accepted apologies– including from my birth mother– from others. I don’t hold ill will against anyone more than myself, and on that I’m still working. I apologized to my friends for being a drunken ass. I accepted an apology from my biological neice for publically snubbing me.

But often… even when I’m alone, all I ever feel is Sorry. For being me; being inadequate, not being enough. I feel it as if its a viral infection. And that feeling.. that inadequacy… is a type of anger. A rage against the way things are and a cry for how one wishes they’d be. My heart: A flower so enraged against the rays of sun it won’t open.

I’ve thought about being sorry, about my mother’s apology, for years. Finally, I felt so down, it started dripping out of me in words.

***

The second time I met my mother
It was like a blind date that wasn’t going to work out

She said she was: Sorry

Don’t look at my other children, She said
Closing her pocket-book. Look at me!
You slipped through my fingers unnoticed
like a seed that grew anyway.

I can’t be your mother, she said.
I can only be Sorry.

I took her hand, and despite it resembling my own, said:

Sorry… I was a missed period.

Sorry How everything in your life ran onward without me…

my mother made life by accident and was Sorry.

You think life belongs
to you until its
wrestled from your helpless arms

What word will be spat off your tongue then?

***

Poetry is an oral tradition. Every poem begins to live once its launched off the tongue of the poet. All poems must be read aloud and I consider reading a poem to an audience part of the writing, editing process. How people hear/receive the poem, how the words and language flow from your tongue can only be known once you give of yourself and release the poem.

The tension and ache I’d been feeling in my chest in the days before this was almost as if I’d wanted to cough up my half-swallowed heart. I was angry: at myself, at being lonely, at my failed relationships, at my family. All my undifferentiated emotion began to smolder.

I read the poem slow, as if peeling back its layers gently. I felt slightly guilty wanting to read it at all– everyone before me was all positive, all good energy and music. And I wasn’t excited to be catalyst for changing the rooms temperature by being serious. But the room was quiet and leaned towards me. I looked up at the audience and found people were listening and being present.

Beginnings and endings are hard. I feel lucky if a poem leads me to a natural conclusion. I read the poems last line and looked up. All was stillness. Even the traffic on the street outside seemed to pause. So I did too. I met a few eyes and let the silence hang there several seconds. Then I said thank you and got off.

I sat down and two things happened. The first, a woman– not the friend I met– came up behind me and hugged me for a long while. The second thing: my heart felt unraveled. The tightness had loosened. I immediately felt more at ease. Relieved. I finally felt I could take a deep breath without something sticking or awkwardly shifting in my ribcage.

A couple of people came up to me afterwards with hugs, all positive and encouraging in regards to the poem. This is valuable because The Room hears a different version of the poem than I Do.

Writing the poem was healing in itself, but reading it aloud somehow completed the circuit. The woman who hugged me– came in briefly and was gone before I could even thank her.

Moral: Write your truth and read it to witnesses. Give it away. Letting go is the only way to begin healing anything.

Who’s Sari Now?

Posted: July 8, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Market in Mumbai

In one of my notebooks, there are two pages of handwritten notes in pencil that smeared. It wasn’t until last night I squinted through the thick fog on the page and salvaged those notes. It was written in 2012 during my visit to India.

I had two roommates, both women. We were there as artists to participate in a 12 hour art installation. But what were we to wear?

We stayed at an artists residence in Mumbai. This particular morning we sat at the end of a picnic table in the walled in courtyard. The assistant who worked there, Karuna, stood next to me and sketched a map to the nearest shopping district. She gave this info to me, the weakest link, the easiest lost, while my roomies sat across from me and talked. At the far end of the table, the owner of the residency had lunch with a man and woman, both blonde and American. I was distracted because staying there the bulk of the week, the three of us had not been offered so much as… Well, we’d been offered water. And only after me and my roommates returned from the coffee shop, finding these two strangers sitting with the owner quietly bowed over steaming bowls fresh from the kitchen, only then were we ever offered food. And it was in passing, an off-handed– oh, you wouldn’t want any food, would you? And even with Karuna sketching arterial streets on her map, I would never describe her as friendly or kind or even warm. Is this an Indian thing? A Class Thing?

I took Karuna’s sketch and Nikki, Be and I crowded into a rickshaw and zipped over to the shopping district. It was a farmer’s market springing wild from the ground in front of fancier, glass and gold shops. We walked through carts sweating handmade jewelry and shoes, fruit juices and food. The ladies ran their fingers along displayed necklaces as if strumming a harp.

We entered a building full of small clothing shops, arranged in a maze with dream logic. The mall was a variety of independent stores and clothiers we no longer offer in our corporate, unified America, all crowded next to each other like barnacles. We walked through the ground floor and fell into one shop at random. It was floor to ceiling with dresses and sari’s. I was as useless as any man in a dress shop, and watched with a kind of fascination the hypnotized gaze veiled over the eyes of the ladies as they suddenly, dreamily, floated through the fabric considering this thing, then not, then this, then not. Then, in spite of the small hot store, I followed Be up a staircase hidden in the corner that lead to a small attic hung with more sari’s and dresses. Be wandered through the offerings and I watched a small Indian man pull out sari’s at random for a grandmotherly woman and a not much younger daughter.

We left the shop, having bought nothing. We all wanted to cross the street, but how?

Crosswalks and traffic lanes are a joke. Rickshaws, buses and dented and damages cars flow like debris water after a tsunami. And though there is chaos, drivers seem to lack the anger so prevalent with drivers in the states. Indian drivers honk a unique language, signalling their intention. Here, driver’s honk in expletives only. In India, everyone knows no one knows what they are doing. Pedestrians have a right to die moreso than a right to cross.

We made it across to more clothes and more options, but I was still at a loss. I didn’t know what I wanted. Women, of course, have more options than men. I would have been happy to dress as a Muslim, head to toe in white but didn’t see anything beyond handmade sandals and simple t-shirts and cargo pants.

Once we crossed the street, the ladies separated naturally. Nikki veering off and ultimately vanishing into a alley thick with piles of clothes and fabric. Be and I wouldn’t see her again for hours, until we’d returned to the residency. But at the time I foolishly thought I was to chaperone and keep us all together. But the spirit of shopping possesses women independently. After losing Nikki, I ran after Be and she was moth-drawn into one brightly lit store with gold hanging in the windows.

Inside was three stories– a staircase leading down into a discount sari basement area, and another staircase leading to a loft with folded, newer fabric. Be and I went upstairs to the mezzanine and met two Indian men who both seemed like they’d be ideal fits in America in the 1970’s. One man did all the talking, bringing out catalogues and laying sari’s along the long white formica counter for her to examine, while the other man ran off to get tea for us and, when Be chose a couple of sari’s to try, he expertly wrapped her, tossing the last yard of fabric over her shoulder with military flourish.

IMG_20121221_154214

Be settled on two sari’s and while wrapping up the sale, I ran back out on the street for a last search for Nikki. Her trail went cold. What choices would she have? I walked the length of one block, doubled back and went the other way. In her shoes, I’d go back to the residency since we had a mandatory group meeting that night.

I returned to Be with her finishing her purchase and we both walked the street a while. Here’s the thing: Be and I are both black, Nikki is white. Finally, Be gave in and started asking people randomly: Did you see a white woman in an orange headwrap? And nearly every person she stopped said yes, and pointed off to some direction where Nikki no longer was. Finally, I nudged Be and with time getting short we both gave in and taxi’d back to the residency, hoping Nikki returned, and she did.

Its a shame to stop there, since there’s so much more to this story. That night to follow would never be completely over. And truth told, India has never completely left my heart. Inspite of that 18 hour plane ride, I gotta go back someday…

writer in the window

She and I met months ago. We’ve had movies nights, dinner. We’re not dating– I emotionally began pulling back once I truly began listening to her. I need to be turned on from the inside. Maybe last night is a good illustration why she doesn’t do it for me.

She’s a poet and performer and I’ve sat in on readings she’s given before. I mourn writing alone always and since she claimed being a poet, kept nudging her to write with me sometime. We kept rescheduling until last night when she agreed to meet me at a cafe of my choice. I left work and went immediately to the cafe in my neighborhood, even found a table at the window. She text’d me that she was on her way. I sat and began writing by hand. I hadn’t done this in weeks and the words gradually began speeding out of me until, anyone glancing over at me would’ve thought I was practicing automatic writing. It physically felt good to sit there and think and move my hand and let my brain replay a memory while I sketched it out on the page. Two pages in she walks into the cafe– You writing a book, she says– and puts her bag over the chair across from me. I give her five dollars, she goes to order something, returns and opens her IBM Thinkpad and exhales about her already long day. She’s a plus size model so she’s all curves, all soft glowing skin. She’s in a simple white one piece mini-dress– though I’ve never seen her in anything except a mini. Her hair fastened in a box braid bun. She folded her sunglasses and placed them at the edge of the table.

She exhaled stress, money woes, glitches trying to set up an Indiegogo page to raise money for a summer class. She talked several minutes, then realized her drink hadn’t materialized. She went to the counter. I folded my notebook, the one I just used for a brain dump, and retrieved two smaller notepads from my satchel.

She returned, placed her drink near her sunglasses and for a moment stared into her computer. I thought I caught her mumbling something like: She look hecka pregnant. I looked over notes I made in a recent freewrite. The previous weekend I camped out and made notes about sleeping on the beach beneath the stars. I thought: I could work with this. I began re-writing it.

She sipped her hibiscus tea. Smacked her lips. Its diluted, she said. She looked up at me. I looked at the juice, chunks of hibiscus swirling like tadpoles beneath invisible squares of ice. I counted down to three and she got up and returned to the counter to ask them to make it stronger. She returned and stared into her phone. She talked to one woman, then another called. She said: I can’t get three-way on my ghetto phone. She asked one of the callers to do a three way call.

I kept diving back into the page, coming up every other breath like a swimmer to look around and breathe. Two women came in with a baby carriage and sat behind us. One talked to the other about how she just quit school out of boredom. She said she was home schooled, though her mom wasn’t schooling her and kept going to work. Just outside the window, a group of men circled like bees around a chessboard. I miss playing with my friend. I went back down to write and after a few quiet minutes, I saw her hand snake across the table towards me. I looked up. She pouted, and mouthed the words: I’m hungry.

What were you eating for dinner, she said.

I wasn’t planning on eating, I said.

You weren’t, she frowned.

I was getting low on money and it was my rent check; plus I had a long weekend ahead of me.

Minutes. She told me again she was hungry. I told her to think of what she wanted to eat.

I went back to writing. She got my attention again: Ten more minutes, she said. And we should go get something.

Let me know, I said.

I wrote on. She stared into her laptop. I kept thinking about the stars, the landscape of the desert. The distance in the darkness between sunset and sunrise. How cutthroat trout might emerge from a still lake in the middle of the night.

She finished her drink, then said: I’m going to the bathroom, then we can go get something. I’m starved.

She collected her cup and mine and disappeared. I scribbled out the last stanza by the time she came back and we wordlessly gathered our things.

We couldn’t leave though without running into One woman, a coordinator for an open mic I recently visited, who seemed like a great resource for jobs and work. But despite the whining my friend gave, about getting food stamps, waiting for her unemployment to kick in, rent and however she was going to afford this class she signed up for, she never approached this woman professionally asking for employmnent leads or anything else. Neither did she say much to the other woman we passed on the street who was just getting off work and exchanged great hugs with us both. We just walked up the block, then another while my friend kinda rattled off her worries and stress.

You get your writing done, she finally asked.

I said yeah and put my notebook back in my satchel and that was the end of it.

We wandered into a Thai restaurant. At the door she turned to me and said, I’ll get you next time.

Get me what? I thought. Will there be a next time? I thought.

You ever eat here, she said.

Yeah, I confessed. I used to bring first dates here.

This isn’t our first date. She said.

I know. I said.

We ate. Her never asking me anything, never engaging me with anything. Any questions come from me only. The conversation is around her and if I daringly, selfishly want to share something I have to be quick and be okay with her never listening to what I’m saying, nor seeming to care. She’ll stop speaking, look at me, spear a piece of chicken off my plate. We finished dinner. I found a way to ask her to just say Thank You. She did.

We left the restaurant and found an open art space two doors away. We went in. She approached the woman at the door and waved to herself and me saying, we’re both artists! The woman was talking about the space, how she was open to different events. My friend kept talking about art, her interest in it, and how many people could fit in this venue while I actually looked at the featured paintings on the walls by a artist just returned from Cuba. The work was deliciously gorgeous– color and rendering of characters and light and ideas.

We eventually left to go to our separate places. Her committed to getting home and working 18 to 20 hours to raise money or write or work whatever she was planning to do. I could only hug her, tell her how nice it was to hang out, and go home.

Lost Hours

Posted: July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

pyramid lake

I’ve been to Reno twice over the last 8 days. On that last trip I drove there with my friend, who bowled in a Tournament at the massive Stadium. His mom drove with us to which was doubly good since she cleaned up at the slots, pulling an astonishing $500 out of a penny machine in one sitting. I wasn’t quite that lucky in anything. The machines ate what little money I did have and I couldn’t quite push myself to sit in on blackjack. I didn’t have much money to burn.

After the last of two Tournaments on our final day, my friend drove over to a neighboring casino. The three of us entered. I admired the low, mirrored ceilings, the elaborate staircase leading upstairs. We strolled past the few tables and slot machines over to the cashier where my friend awaited to be paid for his tournament brackets. The counter woman politely told him to wait a couple of minutes. His mother, a sister to me really, nudged me.

Do you remember this place at all?

Well, it makes me think of the casinos in Vegas.

Oh really. You don’t remember being here last night?

I frowned. Uh, no– I said.

She pointed over to a slot machine in the corner. She said: You sat right there, cussing everybody, calling everybody motherfuckers.

My friend, standing with his arms folded, added: Yeah, that waitress came by and said ‘please watch your language, sir.’ and you said okay and when she left you started up again.

I looked around, remembering nothing. I stared at the slot machine as if I might see a ghost image of myself sitting there, stewing.

I remember what led up to it. That afternoon, after we arrived and while my friend’s mom kept stacking money on her slot machine, I took my first shot of brandy. We soon left the casino for the bowling stadium. While my friend readied himself, I went with his mom to the liquor store. She used her earnings for a bottle of E and J and three bottles of Coke, pouring half the soda out while we sat in the parking garage and refilled the bottles with booze. I sat then watching the teams bowl, slamming the liquid as if I were dehydrated. I remembered complimenting the woman sitting next to us about her hips, I kinda remember leaving. And then I remember us sitting later that night eating and even me successfully going to the bathroom and returning. But the awful things I said to our waitress… visiting the other casino and cussing as if I suffered Tourettes, I didn’t remember at all.

But that I veered towards being An Angry Drunk didn’t surprise me. It saddened me. To think, as his mom jokingly added, that I couldn’t hang… But to also think that I knew why I was so angry. I knew why this part of my personality emerged. That that awful person is who I am beneath whatever facade I try to hide behind 9-5, M-F made me really sad, disappointed. I stood there in the lobby of the casino, the two of them recounting my previous night there, and wished I was a better, more useful friend and person. I told them both as much though they lovingly shrugged it off. They were better to me than I was myself. I can’t bowl, I’m miserable at games, and now I’m a awful drunk. Yet they kept me with them like a relative, allowed me to share their room and relationship and asked nothing from me. Any judgment, criticism is mine alone.

I should mention my frist drive to Reno the weekend before all this, with a different friend. We didn’t bowl or gamble at all, but rather camped and hiked at nearby Pyramid Lake. My other friend is 70 about-to-be 71, yet still kicked my ass in walking veritcal mountains and hills. Driving into the city he pointed out all the mountain ranges surrounding the city that he’d been to the top of. It wasn’t unreasonably hot in the desert– mid 80’s, windy, not scorching, clouds like stray chalk marks. I managed well with a bikers kerchief, a wide-brimmed Chevy’s hat, and every pants pocket holding a bottle of water. The hill he guessed was 700 feet, all dead grass, natural occurring brick and rock. We got to the top in an hour. We nested for a half hour there drinking Tampico orange juice and Cheez Its he carried in his backpack. That night we spent on the beach at the lake. My friend doesn’t fish, but we still had to get into the kinda-cold water. I found a good knife beneath some stones just off shore that was only just starting to flake with rust.

My friend is in AA and has explained how alcohol, how anything is unmanageable in his body. He can only live on coffee, mountains and poetry. I joked how I wanted to experiment with mushrooms which he waved away as unfunny and, out here, a waste of money and consciousness. Drugs are an escape. Out here is where people escape TO not FROM.

We spent the night on the beach. I had no sleeping bag and used a yoga mat, mattress pads, three blankets and a hoodie. The sun set while we watched part of a Ken Burns documentary on a portable DVD he brought with him. I nodded out to a setting sun and narration of a bloody massacre in Kansas in 1856. I snored. The water lapping at different speeds throughout the night two arm lengths away. In the middle of the night I forced myself to wake up to look at the stars, which, with living in the city I never get to see. Soon as I opened my eyes I saw a shooting star. It was like catching God in the act of moving something. I tried making a wish but my mouth could only ask questions. The scaffolding of constellations hung loose and were bright as if they were freshly painted. Jupiter was huge and red and obvious. By morning, I opened my eyes in time to watch the sunrise. My friend lay facedown across from me, in a way that made me wonder if he was dead and if so, what exactly would I do? One of his legs was exposed and his palm was up, fingers loosely closed and uninvolved. He mentioned to me how wonderful it’d be to see the sunrise, but I couldn’t bring myself to wake him. I admired him, as my crazy ADD-addled surrogate father. But between the shooting star and the sunrise, I wished I could share something this perfect and beautiful with someone I loved, someone I could hold and, even if for a foolish moment, claim as my own. But there was only me, my empty heart, the taste of my own lips against my tongue, the delirious colors of the desert and her lake at sunrise or mirroring the solar system at night.

We spent one full day and night at the lake and with her hills. We briefly heard on what radio we could get out there, a Casey Kasem broadcast, who’d just died the week before. I heard his voice and thought, out here, that makes sense.

I came home expecting a mountain of mail and for something to be different, but there was no one who’d missed me, there was no mail and I was the one different. My heart was as open and vast as the land we’d explored. Yet the true undiscovered country remains me myself.