Pocketful of {Dead} Pets

I bury myself in caring for things
I may not be able to keep alive;
Was it my subconscious that wrote out “carrying” when I thought I meant
To say caring?
Do I focus my efforts on things
I see as redeemable?
The cat,
another in the dime a dozen story
of released kittens,
mangy,
bug ridden.
I left her to die,
with a litter of flea bitten young
when I realized I could barely even keep myself alive.
Then there was the puppy
who showed me how my eyes gleam red
in the face of things
I can’t control.
Poor mutt.
I’ll never have my own dog
again.
I did better with the bird
I found in the mouth of a cat,
dragging myself from bed at noon
to judiciously cut nuts and berries
into slivers, on a saucer,
and watch him eat
until every morsel had vanished.
He stayed with me until he was able to fly
and I was sad to realize
how badly I had wanted him
to stop depending on me.
There was another cat,
kicked
and thrown
by the neighborhood children.
My daughter told them I had taken their pet.
I refused to give her back,
but she got out
and was pregnant before she was a year old.
There was nothing I could do.
They started keeping her inside.
There are dog packs here
always seen
eating trash in the ditches.
I leave them alone.
At least they have each other,
often just pairs,
one small, one pit- no surprise.
I killed the infant mice
out of laziness
and cried for two days
at my abhorrent behaviour.
I decided I hate mice.
Vicious little bastards,
worse to one another
than my awful feeding schedule and lack of warmth
could ever be.
Maybe I saved them, after all.
Now I have a starling.
She’s so afraid
and I just want her to know that I love her,
with her twig thin legs
and immaculate claws.
My heart melts when she gapes at me
and fluffs up contentedly in my palm.
I want her to live forever.
We fed her the caterpillar we failed to feed.
I don’t know why it wouldn’t eat,
like the fifty some caterpillars we watched hatch yesterday,
walked about hunting on behalf of,
for very specific leaves.
Four courses we provided
and they’re having none of it.
Their mother only lived five days.
They were her only purpose.
She was beautiful and I don’t want
to end her legacy.
We won’t even get into the pets I had
as a child,
under my parents’ regime.

Disclaimer: If I made it sound like I killed my puppy, I didn’t. I gave her to a guy who named her Lilly and apparently taught her to ride a skateboard.

Daily Dose- Bottle

via Daily Prompt: Bottle

I nearly drown
Way back then,
My head held under the surface
of years
of your inability to cope with your own shadows.
You struck fiercely
Out of fury at your own brokenness.
You inflicted the kind of misery
That made eighteen years seem insurmountable ;
Absolutely not worth pushing through
To see what comes when dawn breaks.
For years afterward I would tell myself
What a childish fallacy
That perspective had been.
Life outside your walls was magnificent,
Smooth sailing freedom.
What I couldn’t know,
Recognized too late,
Was that my demons should have been faced immediately,
Not left in boxes in dusty corners of my mind
To grow
Into beasts that fill all corners,
Gaining strength beyond my own,
waiting, until their victory was guaranteed,
To stage their coup.
What I didn’t realize
Was that my demons would not simply pause,
Tamely allowing their vessel control.
They quietly pulled the strings,
Hiding behind all my seemingly innocent desires and motivations
Until it became impossible to ignore any longer –
The Truth
That my younger self bottled up
And clutched tightly
On nights when the end seemed more promising
Than endurance.
She knew
What I wanted to forget.
She knew
That some stains are set deep
In the fabric,
Some stones
Can’t be chipped out of the foundation
And no matter how wide open
The future seems,
Sparkling before me like a crystalline sea,
You tied a stone around my being
That no matter how fiercely I paddle,
How desperately I try to stay afloat,
My soul will be drawn to the ocean floor
As if by magnetic force.
My younger self knew, too,
That survival was an option,
A definite possibility,
But unlike my featherweight counterparts,
I would require significantly more emotional muscle
To perform the same mundane daily tasks.
“Normal ” for me,
Would be a struggle,
A dogged attempt to keep my head above water
Across a never ending sea,
And to give in to exhaustion
Would be the end
Of all I worked so hard to gain.
You see, my younger self had a tangible enemy-
You stared her down with shifting eyes,
Controlled her every move.
Your opposition was obvious.
But your pitiful girl
Grew into a thing that forgot
To fight.
I find myself wondering, was it worth it, after all?
Can I learn to see the unseen forces
Guiding my actions,
Enough to overturn the mutiny,
Like you never could?
Do I know who I am,
Apart from the demons?
Do you wonder the same,
As you stare at the phone,
Knowing it won’t ring,
On a day your daughters have only escape
To celebrate?

The Inspiration of Seasons

Art offers the promise of entrance into some secret club, where minds are sharper, emotions both more raw and rich, and the word “we” holds a private magic, vague and exclusive. The written word especially, for me, bears profound enchantment, as though each letter was selected with me in mind and I want to tattoo all of them onto my soul.

Perfect poetry has that ethereal quality, each shimmering word carefully selected, like stars plucked from a decadent indigo canvas. I can get stuck in one of two ruts in my own writing, because they’re comfortable to me, but may become monotonous to hypothetical readers.

One is the pleasant dream/afternoon sunlight  motif; a place of golden light and gossamer curtains. Hope and regret. Memory and slightly bored peacefulness. A place where cats sleep on warm wooden floors and flowers bloom in pots on the windowsill. Leaves, in their most majestic attire, flutter through crisp, cloudless skies that are always scented like something familiar, and snow transforms the world into a secret hideout, where only the brave venture.

The other mental room in which I often write is vast and cluttered, like a living trinket box. Floor to ceiling shelves, desktops and chairs are stacked with post cards and tattered envelopes, sparkling rocks, empty pill bottles, bones, half read books, journals with pages torn out, scribbled on and crossed out, burned and thrown to the floor. Photos of terrible memories and mementos of failed friendships hang on the walls and litter the floor. Everything is mania inducing inspiration;  bittersweet, harrowing, unquenchable, eternal- these are the words that live here. This is a room I enter alone and cannot leave until something is exorcised, lest some part of me remain trapped there. I loathe interruptions when I am here, and what comes out of this place is for me and me alone, raw and uncensored because nothing can help me if it isn’t brutally honest. I share only because it may help others, or at the least entertain, and then my plight is less useless. The danger in this writing is recognizing the thin line between purging and wallowing.

Little hurls me headlong into one of these two spaces more than the change of seasons, or happiness; the latter simply because it has always been such a foreign concept to me that it is still nearly always bittersweet. All of this is the thought behind a new category, posts inspired by the change of seasons.

Now, with summer looming like an ominous wave, exciting only to schoolchildren and teachers, and our return to an old haunt (the place of the bus’ marooning), my mind spins through memories of summertime sadness. Thunder storms and the scent of lemons, old days on a dirty lake and my first whirlwind of freedom that nearly ruined me for good. There are older memories, of hedgerows and imaginary games, the “family rug” and treehouses I built for my dolls out of bamboo placemats on the rungs of bar stools (though my parents left out the word “bar.”) These are the most bittersweet memories, because my days of innocence and wonder were spent isolated in a dark and vile place, ruled by fear and contempt.

This summer offers second chances and triumph; malts and the rebirth of the M.U.T.S. bus. I have nothing to lose, and everything to remember.

Daily Dose – Pleased

via Daily Prompt: Pleased

It’s the oddest thing, but I wasn’t  sure how to respond to today’s prompt until about 1:55pm when the doctor read the list of symptoms my husband and I worked on to prepare for my appointment, and she looked up and asked, “Do you think you’re bipolar?”

We discussed what that meant, technically and scientifically, and what that meant as far as my life. And I’m pleased to say, yes, yes I do think my wetware is malfunctioning.

I don’t think I’m impatient, bitter, spiteful, angry, clinging to my damage, ready to fight at the drop of a hat, lazy, unmotivated, reckless, contemptable and incapable of happiness. I think I have a problem that has been out of my control for years, buried under the rubble of an ugly childhood and a nasty relationship. It’s like being freed from prison after years served for a crime I had accepted guilt for. My parents never would get me help. Only mandated talk therapy, never psychiatry.

“We can’t teach a pill abuser that pills are ever the answer, ” my father said. What he meant was, if they” fixed” me they would have to find someone else to blame.

For years I believed medication was a bandaid, maybe even a crutch, but it wouldn’t help me deal with the real issues myself. I maintained this point of view through three nervous breakdowns and the collapse of the “successful life”  I had built. Only after I got with my now husband did I pursue therapy for myself. My husband, my therapist and I laid rope over some treacherous slopes and I followed the lines through emotional frostbite and social amputation over summit after summit. I moved away from my therapist and my husband and I continued the painful process of rebuilding or, really, building for the first time, on a foundation of aforementioned rubble. And then we hit a wall.

A wall I try and try to rationalize. A wall my husband keeps insisting I try harder to break through. And finally, after all this time, after all the filth was cleared away enough to even recognize this long standing obstacle, we have a name for the last thing standing in our way. It’s no longer a vague and shapeless monster that rears its head every two or three weeks and hurls me headlong at my husband’s throat, fangs bared. It’s a creature with a face and a name and, like any demon, that’s all I need to know to banish it.

I have the information I need to make things right, for my whole family. You see, I can choose the lifelong uphill battle for myself, but that wasn’t my husband’s choice, and it certainly wasn’ t the choice of my children. I owe it to them to try another route, and I’m more than pleased to finally know the name of the road I’m on. Left turn up ahead.

Daily Dose: Denial

via Daily Prompt: Denial

My husband closes the full screen window,  starts looking for something else to watch.

“I don’t think anything like that ever would have happened,” I say in reflection. “I mean, he was violent sometimes, yeah, but he was more just pathetic .”

My husband laughs  dryly, without humor. “We just watched, what,  four things, about how pathetic men kill their families. I know you don’t want to admit it, and you’ve distanced yourself from it, but you Were just the same as those women.”

Timothy

The gaps your mean spirit

and lack of nurture left in me

burned a deep desire across my heart;

I would create the family you couldn’t.

I would build the love you never gave me

What I couldn’t see,

in my flawed child’s logic;

What I couldn’t know,

without creating examples,

was that some holes are not mine to fill.

It was your job

to give me the basic building materials

and you let me down-

all the way down,

raised at rock bottom.

(Aren’t homonyms fun? I could say that you razed me,

rather than bringing me up.)

So there I was,

eighteen,

sweet,

determined,

a partial human, convinced I could do your job for myself,

as sort of an afterthought,

like a brick house

with white aluminum sided additions;

I can tack on all the rooms I want,

but the ones you built will forever be empty.

And then there was this infant,

this glowing orb of soul

coated in the finest layer of flesh

and golden hair.

This ill gotten treasure

I thought I could stuff into the cracks, and it was then that I knew.

The rooms were not empty.

They were full of dark water,

murky with your filth

and floating debris

and this

would make me forever insufficient

at achieving my deepest goal-

I am the masthead of this new family ship

and what a gnarled and awkward interpretation of beauty

am I.

My ability to love

and be loved

is shrouded in your shadows

and though I can work,

fight,

burn my heart

to cast light in all the dim spaces,

that darkness will always linger

requiring compensation.

You succeeded.

You win.

Your mission of dominance is complete.

I can never have what I wanted.

There is a tribe,

Beautiful

and beyond my wildest dreams

but what I didn’t know

was how hard I would have to hold the wheel

to correct for your imbalance

and that I can’t,

for one moment,

stop pulling;

likewise I mustn’t over correct,

which is my most frequent mistake, and then

we find ourselves careening towards the shoulder

as I seek again, to find the middle.

I thought there was a time when I would move  past you

as though you never existed.

Now I see the truth

which is:

You will always be here.

I am formed of the same clay as you

and the best I can do

is stoke the smouldering hatred I have for your horrible spirit

that the flames may burn bright

over the lives I seek to protect.

I am better than you

can ever take credit for.

I am not yours.

I live with your failure,

as do you,

but I will not live with your shade.

The Beauty of a Battlefield

It was sprinkling, not enough to be considered a drizzle but more than a mist. It was quiet and humid in the car. Despite the precipitation we rolled the windows down a bit and breathed the tangible air. My life was absolutely shattered at the moment, I was a husk of a human being and reeling, experiencing at once the sensations of freedom and fear, loss and joy, hope in a hollow heart. It was incredibly hard to be in the moment, and as we drove through the Appalachian Mountains, on towering road bridges like a castle keep over the forests which were just past the stage of looking as though they’d been splattered by a paint brush with warm hues, one place blurred into the next. Tiny mountain towns where we weren’t sure we would find a gas station, restaurants with “Mama” in the name, tourist shops built of logs displaying furs in the windows. I couldn’t tell you if we fought in the cemetery in Ohio or Indiana, or if the town where people only helped us to get us to leave their town was in Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

I was steeped in sadness, and not the kind that had become an almost comforting familiar face throughout my shadowy upbringing. No, this was heavy and sharp and unnatural, like a chunk of asphalt broken off in my chest and all I could do was replay everything I had done to bring this on myself. I was with the man who would become my husband, patient, compassionate, trying to lead me through sun drenched forests, over stretches of highway far from any of the  horrors at my back, but I couldn’t talk to him. I was disgusting. Pathetic. Fragmented. I had nothing good to say.

We went a bit too fast, not stopping as much as we should have and learning that, in the East, “My Cows” is nearly impossible to play, cattle farms as infrequent as they are in the oldest settled part of the nation, but thousands of corpses to lodge in fields that grow only stones and polyester floral arrangements. You would wait an hour, scanning the horizon intently for the chance to shout, “My cows!”, only to lose them as you passed yet another graveyard five minutes later.

Although much of this trip is lodged in my memory as a blur of blacktop and trees, I remember a handful of things distinctly. The covered bridge in Confluence, Pennsylvania was my first experience standing in the middle of a calendar page (outside my time spent in wheat fields in early summer, which are photographed for their pastoral quaintness, appreciated only by people who never leave the city.) The river tumbling over stones, its temperature measurable just to look at it. The red bridge, bright like a barn, but with a more exciting job, doing an eternal plank in honor of the people who lived in the woods on the far side. It may have been that same day, I’m not sure, my future husband warmed slightly by the rare glimpse of a smile on my face at the bridge, wanting to see it again. We stopped somewhere I can’t recall the details of now, it may have been a state park.

It was in Pennsylvania too, a historical site in the woods. The trees were tall and thin, grass carpeting much of the wood, giving it the feeling of a meadow full of trees as opposed to the closed off hide out feeling of the western forests. (Although I hadn’t seen those yet.) This day was grey, my favorite. Somehow bright, sunny days had more of a melancholic effect on me, as though baring the opposite nature of all the experiences and memories that have filled my existence. On cloudy days there’s a sense of excitement, secrecy and the promise of life. I bounded from the car, ready to jump over stumps and brave rain slick, moss covered logs. We read the sign at the trail head. A Civil War battlefield. I remember the log hut in the first clearing, stopping to snap pictures of its roof becoming host to creeping organisms, the small flowers gracing the ground, their leaves edged in my favorite autumn hue- that explosive shade of orangey-pink that glows around the sides of still-green undergrowth. Every inch within my site was teeming with a feeling bordering on mysticism. Every plant; every tree both fallen and alive; every standing crystal droplet, holding onto its individuality before melding with the landscape; they sang of secrets I didn’t think I had it in me to access.

My love and I discovered the mirth of shaking thin trunks so that the rain drops resting far above our heads would come toppling down on our shoulders. I could feel the spirits in the clattering leaves. All the young trees here had fed on the blood of soldiers. The ferns had sprung from soil made of men. Men who believed fiercely in the creed of their homeland, or men who had to take a side to protect all they held dear. I admit, I wasn’t mentally present through most of high school and in middle school I just didn’t give a shit, which results in very spotty historical memory. I don’t know on which platform the men of Pennsylvania largely died. And that day, in my bones, it didn’t matter the most minuscule bit. What did matter was the wisdom their ghosts imparted, the simplest of messages, that I so desperately needed to hear. The message that had spurned my golden hearted love towards the road with me in tow, this time around. He just has this way of pushing me into living the answers I need and discovering them myself, without being told. The fallen soldiers whispered what he wanted me to see- “You are alive,” they intoned. “You are alive, you are alive, you are alive.”

In that moment, racing between the trees, scrambling over disintegrating logs and rocks whose lovelier colors the rain had released, I felt what I had always longed to feel: Endless possibility. I did not explore under my father’s crooked eye. I had no rotting hole to return to when we called it a day. My adventure was not piloted by judgement, control or fear. Anything, from that day on, was achievable. The stench of my past still clung to my clothes and hair, haunted my gaze and stooped my frame, but that was not my final state. This was not the end of me. I did not die defending my freedom. I broke out, of both the shadow I was born into and the darkness I stumbled into afterwards, unable as I was to see in the light when I was released from the cage of my youth. My naivete could have been my ruin but, though I live now with the scars of blind trust and the desire to see good in anything, they did not manage to own me. I did not pen the introduction, only scribbled unsanctioned bits in the backstory when I could rend the writing implements from my captors. I did write the first chapter, poorly at that, and full of unnecessary ills, but here I was, standing firmly in the next installment. I had lived as though it would never come, nearly resigned myself to defeat, but blood coursed still through my veins, not in the roots of trees over a century tall. I belonged, at last, to myself.