This poem is a part of “Equal People,” Our Human Family’s anthology of international poetry on equality and inclusivity.
My skin is a preface
written before my birth.
It begins a story
passed down through centuries
of DNA and intuition.
My skin is the beginning of a long book
by the ages.
It is a bridge to stories that many hearts felt
before the words took hold.
It connects me to the burrowed,
rooted truths of lives lived
inside brown hues.
It connects me to the labyrinthine story
heard by some, and ignored by many,
a history engineered hard like the heavy
iron path of a train, yet, at times,
deceptively eased to mask ill will
and the larger plan. …
My sixteenth birthday was the day before Daddy’s coworkers from the mine laid him on the kitchen table, covered in coal dust, fresh blood flowing over what had already dried his shirt into a crunchy shroud. I thought, ‘Daddy’s chest is still heaving, but he’s already wearing a shroud. Coal dust and blood.’ I knew before he said it, that he’d tell me to bury him that way.
“Don’t pretty this up,” he rasped as I caught his hand.
The guys put dish towels under his head and got the crocheted blanket from the couch to warm him up some. His grip on my hand grew tighter, and he kept trying to raise his head as blood dribbled out of his mouth and down the side of his face as he spoke. …
If they drive me mad,
to doubts and fears
and a constant scream
stuck down my throat
stomping my chest
like heavy boots
pounding my heart until,
at the end of the fuse,
it swells and explodes,
scooping out a final
quiet place —
will I have failed?
Would I be the kind of failure
the fake majority relies on
to win the long con?
Words come slow to me in the fog,
the antidepressant fog I slipped into
again, on purpose,
to stop the choking
and the pounding boots
that make me into a bomb.
It was time to take the scream down
a precious notch,
and the fog tries again to save me.
But always, when it clears
and my pages fill,
there isn’t enough language
to talk, to reach across. To heal anything. …
The sky threatens to fall like
heavy drapes with stones in the hems.
Opening and closing
over my best memories
with an enemy’s rhythm, its callous whim
mocking the heart’s work, mocking
even the surgeon’s touch that would
keep the chambers in tune.
I write about the bully when it’s all too much.
The holidays had lifted me,
driven fear and anger at him
out of my mind for a while.
And a friend came to town.
We met in person for the first time,
she and her family open and warm
as if the person I am fit just fine
in their midst. As if my quirky edges
fit smooth enough exactly as they were. …
Circumstances and a pressing need for self care have recently muted my writing voice. I’ve had a couple of ideas, but find myself struggling with writing them out. After the holiday season, I may write more about the monkey wrench that’s fallen into my writing process. And, who knows, maybe my mojo will have come back full force by then. For now, I’m trying not to think about it, and hoping it’s best to just chill and let things flow.
In the meantime, in lieu of new work and for those who may not have seen them, here are some of my holiday pieces from years…
“Let the people decide what they will accept.”
They’ve said this and bristled against
bringing the full force of the law to bear
on the miscreant who would rule
where there is no crown.
The voting booth is no courtroom,
so the advantage there goes to the fiend;
no judge’s instructions are given
to pierce the Electoral College veil,
the white supremacist construct,
whose ugly head was engineered to rear
whenever systemic bullies would use it
to take their stand.
The skewed electorate who need not care,
doesn’t think ahead to what comes next. …
I take the train to search for metaphors.
The whistles don’t whine like they used to.
The sound pulls and blows now
like a stationary harmonica played
by a lazy mouth.
It hints at things lower
than my blues hitting the tracks,
tossed and tumbling between the rails.
And the search takes me outside my body again.
More self-inflicted thumps on the head.
Another set of fingers drawn in,
making the fist.
Another hand. Another me.
A doublemint twin gone glaring mad
in the noise and the diesel smell
we both used to love back when we
sang songs the same way.
My shoulders and neck stay tight
as the rest of me loosens up in the pain,
and I listen. Pen in hand.
Aware. Tired. I tried.
I tear my hair out
and toss the strands.
Stare at them on the floor in the aisle.
Inarticulate patterns that don’t help.
Neither do the huffs and shouts.
Passengers saying, “Why do you do that stuff?”
Like they’ve seen me before
the way I’ve known their faces
deep in the lines, the real and the haze.
They frown and snort out anger
like I should know better.
As if I’m their familiar, forgettable student.
And I can’t take it.
So I disembark with a gunny sack full
of props that never worked,
and a piece of paper, left blank. …
A burn is on this ground.
Electric fire at the fork
reversing steps yet to be taken,
blazing a scorching X
where you smashed in
and turned my mind away
from your ice and fire slicing
markers onto the maps
So many maps showing the way
inside and outside the craters
in my heart and on the skin
I’ve stitched up tight.
Red marks painted on the trails
like an inky stew I can’t call blood.
Not when hope has to ride along.
You sliced in from the edges,
cracked the sky above me,
your call slipping into the frame
like something sweet but caustic,
spilling before I knew.
And my mind swam too fast
to hold back
in the swirling smoke you made
of my thoughts.
But I kept track of the new states
you drew, and wrote them down
true like the open spaces
they’d always been. …
Again, he asks me to read a story, and I do. I see the same challenging terrain. One that says he doesn’t want to tell his stories to me. Choices that say he could care less (but not by much) whether or not I understand the scenes, or have a feeling about them that carries me willingly from one moment to the next.
His face always tangles when I say so. Even though he asks for my thoughts, he’s not ready to believe that my heart and mind work in tandem, that I could possibly know that art lives on more than one plane. I might prefer that he stop asking, but his tangles don’t upset me. We are both untrained, each trying in our own way to remain open, knowing that openness is necessary to draw someone in, yet feeling how often it is like a medicine that cuts every inch of the way as it goes down, before it will help. …