anything but this (a writer's lament)

Anything but this knowing that a cigar is never just a cigar

(do you know how hard they are to find these days)

Anything but this unasked-for knowing, yes, please.

Can someone make it stop?

This horrid knowing that a glance is never just a glance

and that everything (even a sesame seed, or a sliver of wood)

can be made to shatter into hundreds thousands

possibly millions more words no one ever asked for

Picking up along the way

(like cartoon tumbleweed, you can see it)

motives desires rebuffs betrayals beckonings

as soon as the criminal with the pen

bothers to put in on a page.

Who needs all that nuance, all that metaphor

on a choking neon planet of garbage steeped in ocean?

If you are unfortunate enough to be hailed as a writer

(either by your own mind or by anyone else)

there are always the endless deadly questions

why did he why did she why didn't they

wouldn't that make a great story

I bet you could use that, couldn't you

I am weary of revealing my identity as world witness.

Is there a writer on the plane? I would not let the one

starved for poetry die gasping in 13B but

I cannot promise I would feel good about

my life-saving cinquain as I disembarked, either.

What I wouldn't give to hold a chenille pillow,

or cradle an old dog or a fussy infant,

or reach for a scrolled floral glass,

and to have no questions about the occupied

space between my hands, the history of what

has come to visit between my fingers and how

it came to get there.

Just for once I would like to think

nothing much at all of a once-lover or a child

in a cage or twisted horned animal on

the shoulder of the highway.

I should like to go about my day stripped

of the ability to form any question,

feel any curiosity, because don't they know

that questions are the reasons for all this fizzy blood,

all this salty churning, all the nighttime voices

with their own vile questions.

Think of the kettle, emptied for guests, unnoticed,

unable to call out from its place on a quiet blue flame.

Zombie Nazi apocalypse in progress, and I won't get off your lawn, Grandpa

"These" posts of mine freak people out. I don't really get why, and I'm not about to stop posting. If Zuckerberg can use Facebook to show me incontinence panties, I can use Facebook (or my own damn blog) to talk about being an ally, right?

Racism, classism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia: they’re only nuanced if you’re writing a dissertation and you’ve got the reading list to prove it.

It’s simple stuff. When something’s unjust, speak up. Toddlers understand people look different, but everybody gets just as many cookies at snack time, or it’s not fair.

Stop worrying about stepping on the toes of shitty people, even if you’re related to them or you think of them as friends. It’s 2019. Why do you think so little of yourself, that you think you need “slightly racist but basically ok” humans in your circle?

Guard your world. Teach your chosen fam and birth squad all are truly safe with you, and no B.S. excuses will be made for medieval thinking that tears at the seams of humanity and fosters hate.

These are dark days — and because of that, we’ve all gotta be braver and make hard choices. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to call someone out for a nasty choice or word. Silence only serves the aggressors, the perpetrators of violence against others (passive or active). I’m paraphrasing Elie Wiesel. If you don't know who that is, or why I'm paraphrasing him, you've got some work to do, friend.

Humble yourself. Don't you go getting indignant. That's your ego talking and that's going to help exactly no one. Humbling ourselves is something we all must do in 2019. Learn on your own — read — listen to podcasts — be an active knowledge seeker on any and all issues that sit funny with you, on any issue that makes you think to yourself, "Why are they making such a fuss, really?"

If you do your homework, you'll find the reason. I can guarantee if you're in "why all the fuss?" land, you, friend, have not done the proper homework. And that's on you.

DO NOT sit back in your stuffed recliner waiting for knowledge to be dropped in your lap for your 5 o’clock news sound-bite commentary. That’s the very definition of white-ass privilege.

Listen to those who are more likely than you to be marginalized or at-risk in society. It’s not real hard to figure out. And until it is hard to figure out, our work as outspoken allies is not even close to begun, let alone done.

Do not fear offending those who spread fear and hate, even those who hide their cowardice in microaggressions (oh yes, they’re real, folks). Fear alienating the truly good souls in your life who already feel alone and don’t know which white faces they can actually trust.

BE AN ALLY. LIVE AS AN ALLY, NOT A COWARD WATCHING AND MUTTERING FROM BEHIND YOUR DRAWN CURTAINS. Sorry we’re on your lawn, Grandpa, but there seems to be a zombie Nazi apocalypse happening, and the neighborhood is mobilizing.

Jenny out. For, you know, ten minutes or so.

It's not you, it's us (but we could use some kindness)

We humans are pretty good at helping friends or family with obvious illnesses. There are meal chains, get-well cards, bouquets of cheery flowers, and prayers at services. But we humans are not quite as skilled at ministering to loved ones who are battling “invisible” illnesses like depression, anxiety or PTSD.

If you have a friend who is bright as sunshine one day, then disappears off your radar for weeks, you might be dealing with someone whose inner battle has escalated to a dangerous melee.

Please, please do not take it personally. Ask how their brain is doing; don’t assume they’re an antisocial fake jerk. They are already embarrassed by their need to withdraw. They want to want to hang out. They want to be that sunshine for you every day. They want to be blithe with a brain that only whispers kind things to them. But it’s not that simple. Chances are good they are in pain.

Even those with mental illness who eat well, exercise, create things, take meds, talk to therapists, visit psychiatrists, meditate, and steer clear of recreational drugs can have vicious setbacks that are completely mortifying to them. If someone trusts you enough to tell you it’s their mind acting up again, believe them the way you would believe a friend who confided that they are fighting cancer.

Dump the stigma. Do kind things for them without being asked, because chances are good they will not ask, because they already feel like a terrible freak and an utter failure. If they seem anxious about a social event, remember this: It may only be a little get-together for you; to them, it may drain them of precious life for a week afterward.

I have a brain like this, a brain I have a love-hate relationship with. It tells me I would be better off not here, but it is the same brain that says, 'Look at that sunrise! What amazing children! Oh, this is love!' It is very hard to explain this mind to those who have not lived with a brain that can be calm one minute, and vicious and scathing the next.

I have trouble knowing where I could possibly belong, with this brain. I don’t handle changes in plans easily. I don't like surprise visitors. I need lots of down time, alone and with a chosen few. I can’t just always “go with the flow.” I jump to the ceiling if I hear an unexpected noise. If I try to be the social creature I think you want me to be, just because I adore you and don't want to let you down, I will often pay dearly for it the next day, the next week, the next month.

Please know these brain illnesses are very much genetic and biochemical and above all, very, very real. And exquisitely painful. Be kind with those who dart back into the shadows. I know you miss them. They miss themselves, too — their least panicky, most chill selves.

Be gentle to those who are brave enough to tell you what they think they can handle and what they think they can’t. If they are telling you that, they love you and trust you more than you realize. Believe them if they say they are in pain and can't handle having company at the moment. Send notes. Cuddle them if they are cuddly sorts. A quiet 30-minute cuddle is better than a 10 mg Klonopin for a yes-touch-me type. (Just make sure your lovey is a touch-me-when-anxious type.)

Don’t stop inviting your neuroweirdos to social events; just let them know you love them plenty even if they can’t make it, and that they are always welcome in your life. We need our neuro-balanced dear ones. We need voices that argue on our behalf, that we are good enough and worthy of love. Our own minds cannot always do that for us, and that is precarious territory. We're pretty sure we're more trouble than we are worth. That's a hard way to wake up every day. Many of us would rather not wake up, because we know we will wake up with the same brain we went to bed with the day before. And we've tried All the Things. So we wake into the world gingerly. Will it be an okay day? Will we get stuff done? Will we meet up with someone for lunch? Or will we need to hide, need as much quiet as possible?

Trust me, on behalf of all neuroweirdos, we love you lots. Which is why is hurts so much to feel like we are letting you down. We can see in your eyes you don't quite understand what the problem is. The thing is, we don't either, and we really wish there were one magic pill that could make our brains behave. But it's more complicated than that by far.

We're doing the best we can to stay here on the planet with you, raise families with you, send you off to college, take you to amusement parks, make memories with you, ones in which you remember us as strong and funny and healthy and beautiful. We are doing the very best we can to do things that scare us or overwhelm us to so we can stay in your life, because we think you rock. And we are the best friends ever when it comes to accepting your flaws and mistakes and imperfections, because we know better than anyone that this life thing is HARD and nobody makes it through unscathed. Please help us to stay on this spinning globe with you by being as patient as you can, taking time for yourself when you need it, and reminding us of anything, literally anything, we've ever done right. It really helps. I swear.

you me us

You drive me to the airport once again,

through the unkind dark before dawn we 

both know too well.

This time, there is no wolf in the mood

for a passing salute. Your worn blue 

running shoes hitch a ride, back seat.

In case you did not know: 

I am learning from you that love lives 

in the quiet between soccer podcasts 

and NPR broadcasts. 

I am learning that love lives

in the rumbling gaps between 

highway mile markers,

in the spaces where our rough fingers 

come together again and again

to make things right when words are

wrong, when no words will do.

Untitled by Roy Croft

I love you,
Not only for what you are
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself
But for what
You are making of me.

I love you,
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you,
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.

I love you because you
Are helping me to make
of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

The kitchen sinks

In Massachusetts I stand at the kitchen sink
with no view. I nudge the faucet right to
get cold water, and I wonder what happened
to the yellow clock that once did me the favor
of standing in for the sun.

In Wisconsin I stand at a kitchen sink
with a view. I had forgotten what it was
like, to consider light this way, to
contemplate the odd twist of a tree,
the weather, what I might have said—
while my fingernails scrape congealed
oatmeal from the new bowls.

Here, I nudge the faucet left to
get cold water, and I wait. Here, 
the cold water is in no rush and
takes its good old time. I wait and
I remember when half of you
was gone from me, but this way:
head and torso communing with
the plumbing, unseen,
your thick bare feet and stained
trousers a better view than the one
just outside the window. If I knew
how I would nudge you to hot
and show you what I would like
to remember.


Start with what you know

Start with what you know. Your face. Your neck. Your shoulders, and all that rests below.

The freckles are getting bigger. You refuse to call them "spots." But you know this is age, reminding you that you are part of the human race. You are not exempt from the mottling, the grays, the aches, the droop, the sag, the parchment skin of your grandmothers. You loved their skin, can feel the thin, dry, papery touch of it under your plump child's hand. Skin was not then something to fear.

How to Meet Meryl Streep (2005)

There are many, many things you must not do right now. But here is what you must do: stay calm. Breathe as deeply as you can, which is not very deeply at all. Your ribs are crumpling from the pressure. In case you lost consciousness for a moment, you are standing two feet away from Meryl Streep, under the suspended halves of a very large boulder...

Sailing lesson


We embark on our nautical adventure
knowing and not knowing a few things,

You're not so sure about your sailboat motor anymore.
Like you, it's over 40 and doesn't like to admit
that it's always sore in the mornings...

The door

The door would not close.
I had tried for years
to close it behind me.

So like me, to fill a room
too full, to keep too many
useless things, to fear
pardoning the ghosts...

this silence

This silence would be deafening
if you could hear it, still. 

It broke you years ago, when
you were seized with a fit
of wanting needing so violent
you dug your way out through
your own skin...