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

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Morning

Ants were moving over their red sand nest
like satellites rearranging amongst the constellations,
orbiting the opening that led
to a damp dark infinite nest of mazes.
The smell of rot wafted across the yard,
something like the stench of decomposing flesh
or wet soil unearthed into the sunlight for the first time.
It was like the baking of clay
with seaweed and ocean life hardening inside.
The sun was a sedative bearing down on her,
heating the backs of necks and
lulling all into a state of apathetic bliss.
She watched the morning unfold
in the crabgrass: the grasshoppers blinking
in and out of sight; the willow branches drifting
like cheery, lazy pennants; swallows free-falling
to the ground in graceful undulations.

The Climber

He climbs like a dancer,
like sandstone grit under
fingernails doesn’t smart
and quick skidding slips
from a crumbling cliff are
necessary for this art.

Ascending at a steady pace,
thoughtful palms and pads
of fingers placed soft and
self-assured. With grace
and sun on his lashes, the
bronzed back to match stone
slabs, he clambers fast.
He catches light.

The friction of hand jammed
in a crack, the delicate step
where there is no shelf, a
scene of canopy and stinging
sweat; the danger only flavors
his pride. Knowing nothing
lies below but sure demise.

Others warn not to look down,
yet nothing else will sate him.
To stare peril in the face
and dare berate him. He laughs,
swipes chalk into the abyss to
watch it float into the grime.
He dons a smirk and climbs.

How I Tell Our Story, So You Might Understand

Loving you was like loving a slot machine.

You were sitting under all these blue lights and I walked up with a backpack of quarters I’d been saving. I was drawn to you out of some sort of hunger and emptiness. I sat before your glowing face and ran my fingers over the scrapes and dents where others had taken out their anger on you over the years. I thought I could revive you, restore you. Other customers watched me with sad, knowing eyes. Yet I found you difficult to read and difficult to predict. I dropped my first quarter into your mouth.

I sat before you for days, weeks, months. Time shuffled slowly on as I continued to pour quarters into you. My backpack grew lighter. I began to recognize your patterns. Loss. Loss. Gain. Loss. Loss. Loss. Gain. If I left to attend to any of my needs, I would lose a fortune once I returned. But I kept playing, drawn to the odd chance I might strike it rich, to the idea that you would color my future. We were going to make it, together.

At last I did get angry. My quarters had disappeared, and with nothing to show for all the hours and energy I’d channeled into your game. I started to hate seeing those spinning cherries and lemons. It had been a long time since I’d slept well, eaten well, seen daylight. My head spun when I stood upright. So I tried to cheat you. I tried to break you. I sold my backpack to a leering bartender so I could keep playing. You didn’t budge an inch.

Everyone in the casino began to avoid me. I had death in my eyes and I wasn’t afraid to show it off. Joy melted out of everything. I could only think of you and those sweet promises you whispered. Through my fatigue I could still hear the meager jingle of coins you dispensed if I played by your rules without straying. This meant the world to me.

The world blurred. You and I the only inhabitants. Even in my dreams I played badly. Always losing, always disappointing. You became stone cold. I wanted my body to grind to a halt without fanfare.

Thank God someone pulled me away from the edge. Someone was there for me and it wasn’t you. Someone who called my name and turned me around gently by my shoulders. The despair on my face didn’t repel him; he drew closer. He led me away from you. He brought me to his room and allowed me to rest. We talked of pain and of healing. Of meaning. I was able to stand in the sunlight with no guilt.

Healing is a journey. I can’t tell you how long it took and is still taking. But I will tell you that the other day, we returned, and I walked right by you. It hurt to see you out of the corner of my eye, alone. I had to remind myself that it was a choice we both made. Now I walk through the world with presence. And that day, even with a smile.
We were retrieving my backpack.

Falling

I felt that I needed to record the moment I first fell in love,
the instant I claimed you as my soulmate.
But which moment?

Was it the day we met nervously on a dock in your favorite park,
the one overlooking the marina, to struggle through Spanish verbs?
Jugar, conocer, leer, dormir.

It could have been the night you left for Missoula the second time,
when I entwined myself in your blanket with the stubbornness of a child.

Or was it the evening you drove to my house and we stood under the eaves
in the pounding rain, because I wanted to keep you all to myself?

There were a thousand times I fell in love with you,
each drawing me in deeper. Then a thousand times
we broke apart. A thousand times the rift between us widened.

There was an April evening when I called you from the staircase
with crocodile tears choking my voice.

The bright morning you shimmied up a fir tree in the forest,
too high for me. You crowed out from above, not knowing I was
walking home quickly, footprints filled with anger.

There was the night in my car you whispered, you bitch,
and slammed the dashboard with your open palms.

After a while, it is hard to know which came first and which came last.
Difficult to know what the difference is between falling
in love and out of love. Both are types of stumbling, grasping at air,
and hoping that something will catch you.

You Don’t Call it Love

I had been trying to write his happiness for a long time.
It began like a love story that snaked through a dark woods,
and didn’t have an ending. I wanted to write him some comfort, create
a gentle creature to nestle into his shoulder and bring color to his cheeks.

The words did not come easily. In fact, joyful words are hard to catch.
Most of them slipped through my hands and soared right out the window,
no doubt in search of a more suitable home. The gloomy words, though,
clung to my ankles. I tried to brush them off when I remembered. I worked hard.

I presented him the manuscript. My lungs froze in a tight stitch at his scowl.
He said, “This is not my happiness.” He cast the papers to the ground.
I grabbed for my words as the rain began to turn them gray. He walked away.
Emotions bled into my hands, staining my shirtsleeves. It was my own happiness.