i am nothing but
a segregate sense of self
and a bunch of bones.
the supervisor has come to
bind the eyes, gag this tongue
that tries to scissor snake in two,
hide the hands holding the knife.
red tape so thick it is new
plush carpeting, tailor-made
for my arrival. dress up and
look sharp, a killer smile.
oh, this paperwork. it never
ends, swift doubling back, eating the
tail of its fossil predecessors,
an orbit of copy letter disposables.
the department of human artifice
(resources have nothing to do with it)
sit in the back. take notes
on a cold mahogany coffin-table.
the guillotine lays flat and white,
ready to charge forward to
the instruments, lined up
to lop the limping bit right off.
a clean slice. a small gasp.
this is no cease-fire, this new void.
trying to achieve vocational satiety
with soggy tissues and a wastebasket.
tendons tense. relax
into to place,
crouch to be disjointed,
head wilting slow;
a small dizzy spell
and coppery taste.
breathe the fuck in.
breathe the fuck out.
you can calm down.
(i doubt, i doubt.)
be still. night sky
slow, soft, sure in its ink dark,
stars winking out to swallow me
the tall grasses
sway in wind movement nonexistent,
moaning roar from water-cars
the corpse flower
wafts pungent in the silky air,
catching my nose, my mouth, like
and you are there.
black hole eyes staring
endless, palms outstretched.
i suppose i must be burlap
if you are wool.
we play at being friends,
we rent our sentiments.
sometimes you drain
like potatoes in a can.
thick-spun slime melting off
slowly, then all at once;
you don’t keep well.
the world smiles gorgeous
but not for this one,
this one right here
that stabs slivers of glass
into the backs of eyes.
and those hooks! they claw,
they tear scar tissue
anew, and i don’t scream;
you pass over me in shadow.
it is just this again.
i will endure it, endless,
forever cosmos wrapping,
twisting to pull me
into your black mouth.
awaiting the kill.
you send the beacon out.
I sit in the dark, watch the
blooming, bloody red light sizzle into nothing,
and still nothing comes. no matter, you say,
you know the way. you make your maps and
i listen to you, whether I mean to or not.
you go the wrong route, and i follow, I
can’t find the words and my eyes hurt, the ragged breathing,
yawns wide, canyon-big,
but i can’t tell you
what I think; you don’t want to hear it now.
we should be heading home. we need to backtrack;
back crack from exhaustion, i am the chattle
carrying your precious cargo along a ridge.
rocks snap quick across the edge, skitter into dark oblivion,
and what if I fall in?
i step lightly. I stomp my feet.
Here are my nails, unpainted. My face, unprimed.
My hands are clean. My eyes are bleary, but shine. And yet
you find it less alluring than the smoky-look, the polish and
that damn red lipstick, smudging itself
ungracefully on my teeth.
I’m fixing it up. I’ve got paint.
I’ve got brushes for blush and concealer, mascara
that has not quite congealed, old pots of DIY kohl cat-eyes,
and I’ve got the napkin with your number on it.
Yeah. That’ll do.
I have a little book.
It fits in well; it holds in my hands and on my lap, and it never tells my secrets. The clasp holds tight and hooks my pen. The time has come to open, words creeping out as magnets separate.
- Grocery shopping.
- Clean out that bathroom grate.
- Bathe the dogs and air the bedding!
- You still have coursework on the couch.
- Meditate and practice yoga; don’t get so relaxed, there are about a million more things to do.
I write the date, scrolling through lists past and gaze forlornly upon what I did that same day so long ago. What I didn’t do. What did I not do?
And I write. I write important things. Send that birthday present to her, do NOT forget, you have flaked on her so many times before. And I write mundane things. Laundry. Now. Your socks stink! And I write little, silly things. Play a game. Make a friend. Knit a mouse with a scarf.
Sometimes I cheat.
I write some things I have already done, to revel in the pleasure of crossing them out, to be immediately upon the finish line. I continue to write them, out of habit and not obsessive thought, to see the day when I can have no lingering feeling of something I did not do. Did not get to. Will not get to. Why should I bother?
And of the (hundreds? thousands?) of lists I have made, I have never finished a single day. There is always more to do. There is always a better way, more to be responsible about, more fun to be had than I am capable of having with this list-making, body-aching anxiety of forgetfulness and panic attacks. The falling and not getting up, not today, not now, I just can’t. The perception of failure each new day should be immense. And yet, when I am crawling into bed at night with my well-worn book, looking over what I have done, what has been accomplished despite the time constraints and mind breaks and body complaints feels like I am winning a gold medal for something.
Am I beholden to the list? Or is the list beholden to me?
Today is Father’s Day.
My gift hasn’t arrived for my dad, and I have nothing else to show for myself. But to be honest, this isn’t about my dad. It’s about your dad, and how much I want to be there to comfort you through this pain, this infinite loss that I can’t begin to comprehend but still want to navigate, to save you any little bit of heartache if I can.
But I can’t, can I? Because of the type of person I am.
There are wise people, and strong people, and fun people. Your father was all of these. But there are also weak, and useless, and sad ones like me. People who want to help but never seem to do more than hinder. I try and fail you day after day from selfishness, or carelessness, or stupid anxious habits. I never make it over the hurdle. I never cross that line into your territory, your heart, the way that you move through mine so easily, I don’t even know you’ve held me until it’s over.
This wasn’t what I wanted for you. I wanted to be better. You remember what I told you once? That when I was little, I said I wanted to grow up to be a saint, as if such a thing were possible for an everyday person? It’s funny because it’s not something you choose for yourself, and funnier still because no one would consider me a saint. Maybe not even a good person. You try to see me, see past what makes me a failure, but all that squinting for the distant good has made you blind. I am useless to you. I hold you back, hold you down, make you second to my needs when I know well and good that it’s supposed to be the other way around.
I love you, I love you so much, but that isn’t enough for me to stop hurting you. And I don’t have the right to ask for forgiveness.
Today as I clean house, I reflect on a tradition I think all young people are at some point accosted by; I speak, of course, of meeting with one’s relatives. Not for the first time, I will be put on a stand for my parents to talk about (and believe me, that speech will be brief indeed), and then taken off while my cousins are paraded around with notes about their good fortune and their good taste. This will happen tomorrow.
I have always tried to avoid these get-togethers. Not because I dislike my family; I love seeing them and talking to them as normal people would talk, but I always need an escape route before the eternal question of “What are you doing with your life” comes to their lips. It will, inevitably. It should be considered scientific fact. Put family members in a room together and eventually they will start asking one another questions about college, about jobs. About financial security. About your choice of partner. When I was younger (read: when I was in high school), I developed the goth-wardrobe-defense-mechanism. I wore black, entirely, to all family gatherings I did not wish to attend or be pestered during. This way, people would remark more to me about what I was wearing than to ask me how I was getting along. Either that, or I would be avoided entirely, and free to read in a corner or play the piano. Now, these relatives did not know that I never wore these clothes out of the house except when I was to see them. It almost became an acting exercise in restraining the smile and speaking in monotone. I bought the clothes from Hot Topic and hung them in my closet expectantly for the days in which my mother would tell me we were off to Wisconsin or downstate. I lamented the fact that this deprived me of their company entirely, so the clothing was sent to Goodwill. May some soul in my position find it and use it well.
I still have defense mechanisms, though they are more carefully employed. I always bake something, so that their comments may be directed towards the item they are eating and not myself. On days that I am to visit them, I make excuses almost immediately upon arrival that I cannot stay long. Previous engagement and all that, you know. Primp yourself up, waggle those well-manicured fingers and be so grateful when they buy the story.
It becomes much harder when your relatives visit you. Cleaning beforehand; cleaning afterward; the necessity of staying so that they *have someone to talk to*. What is a young girl to do when the questions about school (“Yeah, still working towards that Associate degree”) or plans (“No, I don’t really know what I want to do, but it’s great that your daughter got a full ride to university and is getting a job that pays $100,000 a year. I’m broke.”) come bursting forth? I realize these people are supposed to love me unconditionally, but it feels an awful lot like being run through the ringer and coming out badly bruised and beaten. I don’t know how my parents take it. Do they feel my mental illnesses and screw-ups are a reflection of their parenting in the eyes of our uncles and aunts? I feel guilty for them, because my messes are not their fault. Why can’t family just meet together and break bread without all these questions about life? Why is saying “I am getting along well, thank you” never enough?
But while I clean today in prep for their arrival, I am happy to be reminded of one fact.
I have to work ALL DAY tomorrow.