‘High-Functioning’

it can be quite a cross to bear — no – to haul

into this small office every day

with a smile that doesn’t quite reach the eyes

my silent crucifix of ‘expertise’

no one knows of yesterday’s lorazepam

or the sharp-edged fangs of today’s plan

so i scrabble on the cobbled streets

to keep my precious cross with me

Sick Day

Dawn sun streaks through the blinds and I would rather be sleeping
But I am reading, sipping echinacea lemon tea with honey
And remembering when I was ill as a child, terrified of the flu
I prayed Mom would stay home with me because
When I was sick she would be there there. And if she wasn’t
All I had to do was get a little sicker. I could call her
And she would let me watch TV on weekdays in a sleeping bag
While she ran to the store for popsicles and Saltines
Knowing she would return to pore over paperwork at the table
Or chat with her sister on the phone, hushing Kari’s sick
Checking on me when I didn’t get out of bed
One time she was still at work when I threw up and I cleaned
My own vomit off the sink. And cried because I wanted her there
To sit on the edge of my bed and smooth my hair
When she got home she said You didn’t have to do that, but I did
And I sank into her arms because breathing finally came easy again
Today I lie in a sleeping bag alone, writing poems and papers
Today I am an adult, taking care of myself
And missing my mother

Apology to My Sister

I called you.
A month ago
I left you a voicemail, cordial
with a tinge of plaintive.
Could you tell?
You were drifting on the Hudson,
teaching schoolchildren about tides
or sailing or algae.
Were you cold there, at night?
I think of you when I can’t sleep,
and want to apologize
for pointing that knife at you
when we were kids.
Being a kid
doesn’t excuse that.
I am also sorry
for using my hands and words on you,
or not using them at all.
My silence might have been
the most painful tool.
Tomorrow I fly away
to another home, missing you
by hours.
We’ll share the sky,
gazing at the same fleecy clouds
and patchwork fields,
absorbed in our own respective storylines.

Sixteen

Mom always wanting to know
are those new? And where
did you get those pants, where are you
going tonight, when will you be back,
what did you two do and how is she and
have you dealt with what we discussed?

Mom always watching, me stepping
on eggshells all over the house.
Me creeping on tiptoe midday. Me
disappearing into my room where
I stashed the champagne.
With nothing to celebrate
I toast to blurriness.
I am sixteen.

Mom always nice, but not nice.
Mom comforting, staying up with me.
Mom slapping, brushing me off, Mom
with sharp blades in her voice.
Dad leaving the room, leaving, leaving.
Me asking for love and shrinking.

Me alone in my room.
Me in bed swallowing aspirin after aspirin.
I just turned sixteen, today. Me alone in bed.

Hospital Bed

In the ER, the lights are always on
and despite it all, the nurses laugh
amongst themselves. I am sobbing
without sound, as I have been all day,
to rinse the pain out of my skull.

Taylor drains some blood from my arm.
They say the curtains must stay open,
so they can see in. I know I am selfish
because I will not go back to school.
At home the unfinished books have been
crowding my space.

My friends aren’t here with me,
so they will never know. I wonder
how long I have left.

to process

to process the grief
sometimes i need to let my fingers
my eyes
do the talking, instead of my mouth
which fumbles for vocabulary and spills
out something i’m still not sure about

i need to water myself like a jade plant
and perk up, greener than before

i need to hold myself tightly
and never let go, trusting
that i will always be here

I Didn’t Know Your Love

I didn’t know, Mom
How gently you held me to your chest
The hours invested in my nourishment
The nights you were the only one awake with me
The days you forfeited to make me
A little bit of a better person
Years slipped by like baby steps
Trips to Safeway for licorice
At every piano recital and gymnastics meet
Every haircut, heartbreak, and injury

The love you poured into me and you got nothing
The love you poured around me when I closed myself up
As I dug at my arms with a switchblade and
Wrote notes on how to tie a noose and
Pushed away my birthday cake and
Shut myself in my room to get high
Spent nights crawling out my window to
Lie to you
Thinking I wanted to die
So I refused you
And everything you offered

And I’m sorry, Mom
When I was younger, I didn’t know
Your love is vast like the ocean
Your love still sheds light in early hours
Your love comes back like the tide on the shore
Your love is an unmoving mountain I tried to destroy
Your love is the sun I see each morning and forget to acknowledge

And I’m sorry it took me so long to discover
When I was younger, Mom
I didn’t know

Going into Surgery

The nurse inserts a needle under my skin
and I allow IV fluid into me. They warmed it.
Taped tubes fast to my bony arm.
He squeezes my hand to say, you will be okay.
I wrote my will at home, just in case.
Machines bleep and I sigh. Mostly it is quiet,
this early in the morning on the ward.
We snap a picture of me looking bleak.
Nurse returns, I am leaving now for the OR
in a squeaking gurney. She allows one last kiss.
Nurse and I chat as the ceiling slides past.
It’s just like sleeping, she says. I tell her
I haven’t slept well in a week; I might nod
into the next needle. You’ll feel it soon.
I wait for a rest and a dream.

Resolved

Why did you leave me that night
terrified, all alone in that big house
sloppy and stumbling and then throwing up
and not remembering and chewing pills
and taking long gulps of gin and vodka, why
did you leave, how could you?

And when she asked, “Resolved?”
I said yes.
And she marked it down on the chart then
said, as an afterthought
“I guess those things are never really resolved though.”

The Gamble of DNA

Thumbing through an album of my childhood,
I am caught by the urge to cradle a child
in my arms, wild-haired and scarlet-cheeked.

I want not my former self, but an output of my DNA;
a genetic product of the traits I wish to express:
the subdued artistic sensibility,
neat gleaming rows of teeth,
a curious athletic vigor, intelligence.

I list the qualities I would do away with:
dark unending moods, panicking on plane rides,
the tendency towards alcoholism,
nocturnal jaw-grinding, and skin cancer.

Did too my parents ponder which features I might
inherit or escape, as embryo me swelled and matured?
No, for I was a surprise, a niggling itch,
and then a heart-stopping realization.

Each bleached photo of my youth reminds me
a child is a lottery ticket, a gamble
revealed over the years
as their silvery surface is slowly scratched away.