I’m Lying in my Hammock When I Hear the Phone

(poem #2 in a series in progress)

I’m lying in my hammock when
I hear the phone
make a cricket sound

it’s you
you found me
you want to be my friend

I’m lying in my hammock when
I hear the phone
make a cricket sound

it’s you
saying hola
and I answer
because I always do
because your hair is curly and
your eyes are blue and
I am lying in my hammock
with the cats

you tell me things that
are the answers to
questions I haven’t asked

I’m lying in my hammock when
I hear the phone
make a cricket sound

it’s you
you ask me questions that
have long answers so I
summarize

you say you like me
I tell you
you don’t know me
I say it because I’m scared
because I do know me, and
there are crickets in my phone
at night I dream of cats

you have only imagined me
you have no idea


The Country of Forbidden Words / La Tierra de Las Palabras Prohibidas

you have transported me to
the country of forbidden words.
when you see me
bite my lip
can you read them
in my eyes?
they swim like fish
inside my body
surfacing then diving

in this country of
forbidden words
all the road signs say
stop
other instruction
is forbidden

the sun rises on our silences
on what exists unspoken
on what twists inside
but must not be born



La Tierra de Las Palabras Prohibidas

me has transportado a
la tierra de las palabras prohibidas.
cuando me ves
morder el labio
las lees
en mis ojos?
nadan como peces
adentro de me cuerpo
entre la superficie y las profundidades

en esta tierra de
las palabras prohibidas
todas las señales de tránsito dicen
alto
otra instrucción 
es prohibida

el sol sube sobre mis silencios
sobre lo que existe sin pronunciarse
sobre lo que retuerce por dentro
pero no debe nacer

Follow Me

follow me
to the brackish places
where warm muck mixes
with ocean salt and
last week’s rain
this is where land crabs
make their burrows
little fish hatch between
rotting twigs and
baby crocodiles wait,
their eyes floating like
bubbles at the surface,
for the return of their
hunting mothers

 

Sígueme

sígueme
a los lugares salobres
donde el lodo caliente se mezcla
con la sal del mar y 
lluvias de la semana pasada
aquí es donde los cangrejos
hacen sus hoyos
pecesitos nacen entre
ramas podridas y
cocodrilos infantes esperan,
sus ojos flotando como
burbujas en la superficie,
sus madres que andan
de caza

Poems with Safe Places

let there be poems
with safe places
poems with doors that close
with cats on the bed
shade tress and
sunday mornings when
no one is
outside

let there be poems with
pillows
curtains
clocks that move slowly
and rain clouds to
cover the
blinding sky

 

Poemas con Lugares Seguros

que existan poemas
con lugares seguros
poemas con puertas que se cierran
con gatos en la cama
con arboles que den sombra y
las mañanas de domingo cuando
no hay nadie
afuera

que existan poemas con
almohadas
cortinas
relojes que caminan lentamente
y nubes de lluvia 
para cubrir 
el cielo cegador

Obedient to the Moon / Obediente a la Luna

watch the horizon
move toward it when
arching water beckons
expect the unexpected
expect to have to try

rain falls on the jungle
even when you are sleeping
even after you die
then slides through roots
to the ocean

watch water
study how it pushes through air
fierce and gentle
all of this
obedient to the moon

 

Obediente a la Luna

mira el horizonte
acércate a él cuando
el agua se arquea, llamando
espera lo inesperado
espera deber intentar

la lluvia cae sobre la jungla
aun cuando duermes
aun después de que mueras
luego se desliza a través de raíces
hacia mar

observa el agua
estudia cómo empuja contra el aire
feroz y delicado
todo esto
obediente a la luna

More of a Hum, Less of a Scream

HABLANDO SOLA

I’ve been thinking about something. I’ve been thinking about it while I surf, while I ride my bike, in the early mornings when I’m neither awake nor asleep.


JUNE

It’s June. I don’t know what that means to you, but it for me it dislodges something that lives deep in my bone marrow. It brings me flashes of unthinkable doctor visits, sudden plane tickets, a long morning run when I understood exactly what was happening even though I didn’t dare to say it, and the surreal sensation of packing suitcases for a trip that wasn’t a vacation.  A lot of those days turned into poems.

Probably, eventually, if I live long enough, June will just be June.  It will be different. Everything is always different, eventually. You can quote me on that if you want to. You can bet your life savings on it.

After June comes July. July reminds me of long walks, fruit and vegetable markets, chemotherapy appointments, and the ER. August follows, with more of the same. September is a hard month that takes me on a trip through the process of dying. Getting out of your body is as messy as getting into it.  And then there’s October with its interminable silence. Clocks tick 24 hours a day. The sunlight is sharp and cold.


THAT WAS 3 YEARS AGO

You wonder how many more times I’m going to tell you this story? I don’t know. Imagine how many times it tells itself to me. 

It’s a good story.  If today was the end of it, you could say it has a happy ending.  How’s that for optimism?


CELLS

I read once that every 7 years every cell in the human body is replaced by a new cell. Have I written about this before? I might have. I think it’s important.

I’m writing about it now, because I’ve been thinking about my body. Almost half of my body wasn’t even there, three years ago, when Pio and I took off for Milan. These hands are only sort of the hands that packed the suitcases. The feet that walked through pairs of shoes on the streets of Milan trying to make space for all this—those feet are only sort of my actual feet, today. Half the cells in my body—from my ankle bones to the synapses in my brain—never even knew Pio. Half of these eyes never saw him. Isn’t that crazy?

And this: half the cells that make up my brain where the stories are held aren’t even the original ones who recorded the stories. They do the job of remembering the stories they’re told, I guess, but they weren’t even there in my head on the airplane, or at the market trying to remember how to say “cauliflower” in Italian, or in front of the TV together splitting a beer and potato chips (because at that point, why not?), or in the hospital room holding hands when that was all that was left. Imagine. A few years more and not even one cell in my body will have been there.

We remember things experienced in other bodies.


HARD POETRY

I think that explains everything. It explains how we can go on living. Because with every hour and every day, our bodies turn into other bodies that haven’t even experienced our own stories. Our brain cells that remember them were told the stories by previous generations of brain cells. It’s more hard poetry than hard science, but what a perfect place for them to meet. The stories remain, but something about the sound they make is different. Something about the tone. The sound coming from my bones is there, but it’s more of a hum, less of a scream.

You can’t stop it. You can’t make it hurry up. If you just keep eating some food, drinking some water, sleeping at night, and staying out of the jaws of crocodiles, it happens on its own. It’s beautiful. It’s brutal. It doesn’t really matter what you call it.

 

EVENTUALLY

Do I sit around ruminating on this all the time?  I do not.  But it’s June.  Part of me commences a 4-month walk through The Valley of The Shadow of Death.

It’s alright. I fear no evil. 

Everything, eventually, is different.

Not Even a Flower

i would like to write something
so beautiful
it tears your heart out

but what is that thing?

i would like to write something
to make you fall in love with me
but i haven’t yet learned
the right language

i would like to
climb a tree and
cry until morning
between the stars

to explode open
into a red and purple bloom
all the colibris would kiss me

but i am not even a flower

this pen in my hand is
so small and thin

 

Ni Siquiera Una Flor

me gustaría escribir algo
tan hermoso
te arranque el corazón

pero cuál sería esa cosa

me gustaría escribir algo
que te haga enamorarte de mi
pero todavía no he aprendido
el idioma justo

me gustaría
subir un árbol y
llorar hasta la mañana
entre las estrellas

explotar como
un brote que abre en
una flor roja y morada
todos los colibrís me besarían

pero no soy ni siquiera una flor

esta pluma en mi mano es
tan diminuto y delgado

Afterlife

the world has ended
this is the afterlife

birds here
and  people
speak so many languages

the silence that
sits above
this thin layer of air
is infinite and
louder than wind

i expected angels
in the afterlife
cherubim
saraphim
or, if i’ve been wrong
lakes of fire

but no

the winged things here are
dragonflies
hummingbirds
parakeets
moths

and lakes lie like
broken pieces of sky

The Universe of This Is Not What I Signed Up For

I would like to say something meaningful at a time like this, with our world locked down and life suspended, but those are tall orders. What is meaningful? I could describe my daily experience to you, the peacefulness of my days and my nights. I am among the lucky ones, at this moment. I know that. Luck can change on a dime—I know that, too.

I am in familiar territory. I am the mapmaker of this place we are. I was exploring its contours before you all arrived.

There are ways in which what has happened in the rest of the world has thrown it, en mass, into my reality–the reality of grief. Not in every way, but in some ways. Now you have all had the rug yanked out from under you. Now your world has been shaken to pieces, too. Now you are discovering what I meant two years ago when I wrote about sitting and listening to silence, trying to take it all in. When I wrote about the vertigo of having no solid reference points. The waiting.

Welcome to the planet called Loss. Welcome to the solar system called I Did Everything Right But Everything Still Turned Out Wrong. Welcome to the galaxy called All You Can Do Is Wait. It’s in the universe of This Is Not What I Signed Up For. The tour will begin in 10 minutes.

What are we waiting for? We don’t know. Whatever comes next.
When will it get here? Someday. Some other day that is not today.
Are we going to like it? Maybe. Maybe not.
Do we get our old life back? I won’t. We’ll find out if you do.

Life, again, has proved right this belief of mine that no matter what it is that you think is going to happen, the thing that actually happens will be something else. Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Realize that what comes will not be what you expected or prepared for. Breathe. Wait. Learn to walk barefoot over rocks, bake bread, and sleep with the windows open. You wouldn’t believe how useful these things can be.

Meaningful? Perhaps not.

But, true.

On this planet, The Past and The Future are separate islands in a sea so vast you cannot see one from the other.

Lettuce Soup

I don’t know. Whatever the question is, that’s my answer. At least I’m honest. 

The things I do know aren’t the answers to anything in particular.

The Tower of Babel

I think of the Tower of Babel. (If you missed Sunday School that Sunday, click here.) Before we all went into lock-down, we as a human species were one thing, invincible. Now we’re all in our corners–sent to our rooms, so to speak. This is different than the Tower of Babel story, because in the Bible story their languages were scrambled so they couldn’t talk to each other. We can still talk to each other. We talk too much, repeating things we heard someone else say, getting into heated disagreements in/over little black letters on a screen. The divisions are in place. It’s Babel. Different, but the same.

“They” closed the borders of the countries of the world. I live in a town that functions 100% on tourism. We don’t have any other industry. We don’t have any other way of earning our daily bread. We (not me personally at this time, but the citizens of the place I live) are hungry.

The streets are quiet. I remember 25 years ago when this quiet was normal. It was The Thing, not the absence of a thing. But it was different, then. There were more trees and fewer empty buildings. I love the quiet. I love the stillness. Finally something that is true is revealed from beneath something that was artificial. Does that make sense? To me, it does.

We fear crime. Stores, closed until further notice, have been emptied by their owners. Naked mannequins stand in shop windows. Restaurants are dark as caves, emptied of tables and chairs. Where has all the furniture gone?

I forgot there were this many monkeys. The hillsides are full of their voices just before dawn. They are everywhere. I thought they were gone–a thinning, endangered population that human activity was slowly extinguishing. Not even. There is nothing wrong with the monkeys. They just didn’t like us is all. Sometimes I’m not sure I like us.

Parrots. Have you ever listened to them? On a morning with no buses, no construction noise, no music from restaurants trying to attract foot traffic. I sometimes laugh at their jokes even though I don’t understand the words.

The ocean. It doesn’t need us. We sigh and suffer for it. We need it on our skin. We dream of it at night. And there it is, luminous, rising, falling, breathing its salty warm breath into the world, cleaner and more crystalline than ever. It isn’t one bit sad.

“When Things Get Back to Normal”

Nothing is ever going to be the same after this. I don’t think “things” are going to go back to being “like they were.” I could be wrong–let’s just take that as a given no matter what I say. We talk about, “after this is over,” and of course it will be over. Everything ends. But maybe we should drop the phrase “when things get back to normal.” Am I the only one who foresees a new normal?

I might know something about new normals.

Having the world implode into lockdown and watching society melt isn’t entirely dissimilar to the experience of having my husband become sick and die. It isn’t the same, but one is reminiscent of the other. Both things happened suddenly. Both things yank the rug out from under you. Both things cause you to have to rethink ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING about your life. Both things destroy what was and leave you with god-only-knows-what afterward. Both things are surrounded by a lot of silence. Both of them involve waking up each morning and having to remember how “now” is different from “then” before you know how to live.

Remember how I confessed to walking and running on the beach with my eyes closed, trying to see with my skin and my ears? Now I can do it on my bike in the street. In little spurts, early or late. More than ever, being able to sense what is around me without being able to see it feels like a critical skill.

Lettuce Soup

What’s around me/us that I cannot see?

I’m told there’s a virus–literally “your death of a cold.” I can’t see it. Should I be afraid of the air?

There is hunger around me. I can feel that. In the empty streets, I see friends who wave and smile. I also see strange people that I never seen before–people who eye me in a way I don’t like. In a house a few miles from here a few nights ago 4 people were shot. It sounds drug-related–somebody owed the wrong person too much money or something. I’m not afraid of being shot in the night. I’m not afraid of being hungry. I was also not afraid the government would shut the borders and that the restaurant owners would find it prudent to take home the tables and chairs. But they have.

Some people–people I know–are looking at the worst days of their lives. I am not. Not yet. Things have to be much different than this before they compare to the worst day of my life. I’ve been poor before. I’ve been hungry. I don’t talk about it much. Once, I made lettuce soup for my stepdaughter and pretended it was delicious (it wasn’t bad, really) because it was the only thing we had. I am a long long way from preparing lettuce soup for a hungry child who depends on me.

Something is Happening

Where am I? What is going on?

I love the silence. No cars. No buses. No dump trucks. No cement mixers. No music from bars. Nothing. I might be obsessed with it. I feel a sort of jealousy regarding it–it is mine and you cannot have it. I don’t want anyone or anything to touch it. A noisy motorcycle drove by this morning and I held my breath. It interrupted the locusts and the wind I was listening to. For a moment it drowned out the sound of the sea and it was like not knowing where I was.

I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I loved things the way they were. I was happy, then. But something has happened. Something is happening. Do you feel it? Things can be different. Better. Can’t they? If there is more than one way to be, can we be another way now that we’ve had this pause. Like children redirected after a time out?

Listen…  

Is that the sound of the meek inheriting the earth?