Dearly departed

Yelling out,

Where are you,

doesn’t make the dead return.

Yet you convince yourself

that the tingle on the back of your neck in the black

is more than just the ceiling fan.

You want to tell yourself that they returned through the steel veiled doors

but remember, you and yours,

When you’re kneeling –

Screaming –

Pleading –

On all fours –

They left in September and they’ve never left,

Always in the urn.

Funeral Flowers

She was dead long before she stopped breathing.

Her sunken, empty eyes

held no hope as she sat idly

on the deck or face-down on the beach as the sun

breathed her in.

She seized her moments of clarity around their necks

and submerged them, whining in ether.

She starved her body of loving embrace

and recoiled to touch like she was toxic

and contagious.

And when her eyes fused shut when life burnt out,

she reached towards the ceiling for God to hold her.

Dirty Secrets

The evening following her death was quiet. Too quiet. My dad sat on the floor of my grandpa’s living room, surrounded by heaps of papers and bills that my mom hid around the house during the last year of her life. I later learned through my own investigation into the mind of an addict that they’re particularly good at keeping secrets. My mom’s secrets were of a financial matter. She had a credit card no one knew about, bills left unpaid, stuffed into drawers here and there, and now my dad was sifting through all of it. 

It made sense to me, though, watching him look at old bills for the first time and have no idea who was responsible for them, or how they were so well hidden. That previous summer, my mom and dad were living with my grandpa who was recovering from surgery. My brother and I lived in our childhood home across town. One afternoon my mom called me and asked me to bring the industrial-sized jug of coffee to her because they ran out and she would rather die before ingesting instant decaf.

Dutifully, I made a pit stop to the kitchen and pulled out the jug. Behind it, my mom’s Minnie Mouse glass – a souvenir from our first family vacation to Disney World – sat behind it, half-full of clear liquid. At first, I thought it was a glass of water and thought it was very strange that it was in a food cabinet. I pulled it from the shelf and brought it to my nose. Vodka. How? She never drank vodka. 

I brought it up to her that same night. Her response was, “Don’t judge me.” I knew she was drinking vodka before she wound up in the hospital, before she turned yellow, before she forgot who she was. Yet, I said nothing, because she told me not to judge her. She told me to stay out of it, and that I wasn’t the parent. So I obliged. Partly out of fear and partly because I thought maybe if I kept her secrets she’d have more to tell me until there was nothing left to hide and maybe – when all other forms of avoidance were exhausted – she’d want to get sober.

It was uncommonly warm – the day after her death – and we opened all the windows in the front of the house, the ones facing the creek. I grew up accustomed to the smell of low tide, the oddly sweet, rotten, organic smell that rose up from the muck when the water receded. When we were little, my brother and I would blame it on the other as our parents drove us near the water. As we aged, we could pinpoint the difference between creek smell and a fart.

The smell at first wafted gently and slowly into the living room. I saw my dad wrinkle his nose a bit – especially since he was on the floor and the odor was too dense to rise up the cathedral ceilings in the cape house. My grandpa, whose diet consisted all-too regularly of things like Jarlsburg cheese and canned sardines, was unaffected. When the smell arrived to me, on the couch, it round-house kicked me in the face. Putrid, rotting organic smell. Human-organic smell.

“That’s shit.”

“What,” my dad began. Then, cut off by his own sense of smell, inhaled deeply and regretfully.

“Oh my god,” he said, “what the fuck is that?”

“Huh?” My grandpa finally looked up. For a moment, my dad and I thought he soiled himself and was trying to play it casual. 

“Shit, pop, shit,” my dad said to him. “It smells like shit.” 

Our attention turned to the four or five open windows that faced the creek. It wasn’t the creek, so my dad and I both got up and walked out onto the deck.

“I think it’s coming from the basement,” I suggested. 

My dad put on his sandals and opened the basement door only to be struck with the affirmation that yes, the smell of raw sewage was down there. Enough, in fact, to flood the floor and anything buoyant enough that once sat on the concrete was now adrift in a sea of poo. 

It was concluded that the influx of visitors over the last week to my grandpa’s house overloaded the septic system and backed up a combination of water and waste, creating an ankle-deep tide pool downstairs. My dad grabbed a Shop Vac and I recoiled to the couch. He called an emergency plumbing service to pump out the tanks and, within maybe three hours, all the crap was gone – except for the smell. 

“Look at this,” he said as he walked back into the house. I did not want to look at whatever he had in the bucket he was carrying. 

“They floated out from behind the dryer.” He tilted the bucket towards me and inside I saw several large, empty bottles of Absolut vodka. 

“Holy shit,” I said. Immediately, I thought back to the summer before, and how I wasn’t able to figure out how my mom was drinking vodka and keeping it from everyone. It all made sense. Laundry, chores, grocery shopping – she hid everything in plain sight.

Twenties

I thought my 20s

would be when everything 

made sense – 

I don’t know what I was expecting, though,

since my 20s began with the death

of my mother

and ended with the death 

of my limitations.

My 20s held funerary services 

of who I thought I was –

who I thought was worthy of me.

It was the death of ignoring myself;

My 20s ended with me coming to life.

My Mother’s Prayer

A good beer

and a sticky August night

are all I need

to pay homage to my
Mother.

I am the daughter 

of Patricia – 

Of dragon woman, blue eyeliner

with limp and easy cigarette hands

and mascara wand swords.

Mother to children – 

All hers –

But only two were really hers.

Her alter is the dashboard 

of an ‘03 Mustang 

with offerings of classic rock,

a Bic lighter or three, one probably empty,

and coke bottle eyeglasses 

to see how she made most days

her bitch.

I can still hear her say it.

Her prayer.

Do no harm,

take no shit.

Amen.

Trunk space

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for the majority of my adult life. Rather than say, “I’ve struggled” with either, I’ll take away any controlling factor and simply state, “I have lived.” They are like annoying roommates who mostly keep to themselves and then one of them clogs the toilet and doesn’t say anything, so it just overflows until I find it and then I’m stuck with the mess. I use the analogy of the toilet because a clogged toilet both makes me anxious and also a little sad. Feel free to insert whatever analogy works for you.

When my anxiety creeps up, I want to impulse eat. I want to yell. I want to run away. When I feel depressed, I want to hug my dog and live in my bed under the covers until dark and never come out. Luckily for my dog, I have extreme issues with guilt and an overwhelmingly responsibility to take care of others so it never lasts long and he inspires me to go outside, or for a trail walk, or to play fetch.

Tonight was a little different, though. I just really wanted to take a nap. I really wanted to drift off for a couple of hours and wake up a little less drowned in my own thoughts. This didn’t happen, though. The universe – and nature – decided a flash flood would be scheduled for 7 PM and I was woken with what sounded like a tornado running down my street. My dog and I both shot up and I heard my phone going off to the emergency alert system. I looked out the window and saw my neighbor Joan’s car parked with the trunk wide open.

Joan is elderly. She’s sweet, the right amount of nosy that any old woman should be, and my dog is her number one fan. She always forgets to close her trunk. Her husband had major surgery recently and she’s been inundated with helping him. There have been nurses and family members in and out of the condo next to mine in order to make sure Joan’s husband has the proper care. It makes me think of my grandpa and how rough the medical care was on the family and him for the last few months of his life. Her husband has improved, though, which makes me happy to hear.

So back to Joan’s damn trunk. I don’t even think about it, just say, “Dammit, Joan!” I throw on some pants and a tee and run outside like a mad woman and slam the trunk before the rain gets too bad. I don’t tell her. I don’t make a scene; just prevent a soggy trunk and run back into the house. When I closed the door it hit me – no matter how stuck I feel, regardless of how fucked up things may seem, I (or you) always have a purpose. There is always a purpose to do even the smallest thing for an unwitting person. I (you) always have a place in this world, even if it’s just closing some old lady’s trunk in a flash flood.

Sacrifice

We stand shorebound and watch

fishermen hold tight to rocks,

their faces smooth like beach glass 

from years of meeting with the sea.

A wave will crash 

and more and more – 

Applause for the morning’s bounty.

Even icy dawns

when we saw the sunrise 

over wild spraying sea –

And biting winds threw birds 

towards the end of the earth 

and the horizon lay as if it were under the tide

ignoring the seabirds fights and cries,

she still accords with fishermen

trading patience for salt.

Their steady, tired feet and tired eyes

meet the wind and take its bites 

and respect where the horizon lies. 

A Question

Is there one single, all-encompassing truth and we are all too small to see it, or are we all floating freely living truths strictly based off our own realms of perception?
I often have wondered if there is a rhyme or reason to human interaction, if we are moving around like atoms who sometimes collide and sometimes work together. I wondered why my ex-partner saw logic in his infidelity, believing he was protecting me by hiding a relationship while maintaining a life with me, as if that false sense of security was better than me being alone. It’s alarming, as people, that we see others as we want them to seem, and that we see situations based on the depth of our own personal perceptions. It’s a hard truth for some that we are only capable of loving another based on the capacity of what we believe we deserve. No matter how hard we want to believe we can give more than we are able, we cannot. So is there a truth, larger than all of us, that we are too small to see? Or are all of our truths, hitting into each other, what the big picture is?

Life Meal

Has your life been good or bad ?

Ask if someone lived

a life that falls in the same question range

as a meal in a restaurant.

How was your meal? Was it good or bad?

Was the date good or bad?

Or was your life just life?

Was your life filled with bad moments

that were ultimately good for you,

or tasty, succulent moments that ended

badly?

Was there a slow sip of morning that felt like tea in Fall,

or a sudden forceful gust of wind

that hit like the first swim of late Spring?

How many cold nights did you wake up from?

How many walks did you take alone?

How many savory nights were spent in the minds

of your friends?

So rather than your life be good or bad –

are you full?

Up and Over

I never got the urge

to cry

when looking at someone

I loved unless

they were moments

from death.

I never felt such overwhelming

joy

until that September afternoon –

Your eyes.

Those eyes like mine

made me feel

such joy

I almost wept.

I could not contain

just how much

I loved you.

French press mornings

that gifted us our futures in the bottom

of our cups –

I cannot read our future.

Why did you fall in love with me?

You smiled and said nothing.

I asked again –

I took your hand –

You’re easy to love, I said.

You smiled and said,

because you’re kind.

Kind to heart and kind in patience

rose-colored and divine –

Too rosy to see your eyes that hid

what you couldn’t tell me until

many months past.

To leave me devoured and spit out

spit up resentments where love once was

our cups empty

my –

My cup empty.

You touched her –

and her –

and probably her as well.

Black coffee grind hand on my heart

too divine to stay elevated

fell again

at your feet.

And I wept and wept

to look at your face

to see the death of us –

dead to me.