no me hables
abra los ojos y
dame tu mano
y no digas
las palabras engañan
no me hables
abra los ojos y
dame tu mano
y no digas
las palabras engañan
This is the end of a year of silence. I didn’t set out to experience a year of silence, but I also promised not to require anything of myself other than keeping my job and feeding the cats. A year of of much silence is what came to me. It was necessary and beautiful in a fearsome way.
Walking out of it, I feel nothing like the person who walked into it. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s true.
In 2017, I lost everything. Not “lost” like I don’t know where I put it–“lost” as in my whole life lifted off the planet like water vapor and disappeared into the sky. You know that story already. Until the beginning of June 2017, I had one life. It vanished and was replaced, first by another completely different life in a country with a language I barely spoke, and then replaced again. Replaced the second time by a life back in my familiar country but in a strange house with a reconfigured job, and a new silence.
So. Very. Much. Silence.
I learned to inhabit it.
2018 has been a quiet year. Very quiet. Everything happened. Nothing happened. I don’t really know. If I try to make a cohesive, sensible tale out of all of it, my head begins to split down the middle, so I stop. It’s alright. I just tell you true stories as they come to me–maybe someday one of us will be able to make sense out of it all. Or at least some of it.
I have literally written volumes. Notebook after notebook, obsessively as if my life depends upon it. Maybe it does. Some of it is good, some of it isn’t–it doesn’t matter. I have to do it to keep from going mad. There is so much noise in my head and so much silence all around. Sometimes I start to cry and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I feel unnervingly happy. There’s just so much. So much everything. So much that is so important and so impossible. It’s a very big wind and I attempt to simply stand still in it. To take all of it and not fall.
And yes there is a book coming. Poems for the brave-hearted. It’s called “Certain as Afternoon.” Because everything that will happen is.
I’m not afraid.
I don’t feel weak, either.
I feel inexplicably strong.
Like one of those giant cenizaros that hum with bees when they bloom.
A blooming kind of “strong.”
I literally do not know what I want.
Maybe I am afraid to want anything for fear of losing it.
That would be a reasonable fear for me to have, all things considered.
But I just said I wasn’t afraid, so what is this confession?
Not afraid, perhaps, of anything that can come from the outside.
But raw as as a fresh wound on the inside.
I’m more afraid of me than I am of you.
I don’t do New Years resolutions any more. When I used to do them, I always resolved the same things: to write more, to eat less, to be kinder. I don’t have any other ideas. But if I wrote any more than I do right now, I’d have to quit my job. If I ate any less, I would blow away in the wind. If I was any kinder, I seriously hope someone would tie me to a tree and go get help.
But maybe I do have a resolution for 2019. I resolve not to hide. Why do I feel like bursting into tears when I write that? Because hiding is safe and I am good at it?
Well I won’t do it.
I’m not broken anymore. Not most days, anyway. But I’m not sure I’m the same species of creature that I used to be. Something in me feels like it has the coiled strength of a waiting tiger–motionless and not at all delicate. And I’m pretty sure I have butterfly wings, playful, bright, and fragile. I don’t know what you call a thing like that. I don’t know how you be a thing like that. What does it eat? Where does it sleep? Will people be afraid of it?
It’s like surfing. Everything is. Life is. Every day you paddle out into it, whatever it is. Some days you wait and wait for absolutely nothing. Some days you get cold and you want to go home. Some days the sets are so big and so terrible all you can do is paddle straight at them with all your might and pray to God that the hit, when it comes, won’t be as bad as it looks. Some days you ditch the board and dive for the bottom. And some days everything is right, including you, and it all comes together so perfectly you can’t decide if you more want to laugh or cry. I like those days. I have some like that. I have all the kinds. You don’t get to pick.
You pick whether or not to get in the water.
(A love poem for a dark place that ceases to be terrifying when it becomes familiar. I call it The Cave.)
o deep black
space of silence,
place before time,
dark lung that
pulls us in with the air.
this is where we must
find our way
the place where the eye
cannot speak and
only our crying echoes
to show us the
shape of our
the texture of air in our
is so thin and strange.
you said take me home
to the sea and
neither of us imagined then
on those last days of
pain patches and tireless visitors
of a carry-on bag
i tried to lift it
into the space above
my seat on the plane but
the gentleman who helped
eyed me strangely
when the plane took off pointing
toward the endless Atlantic, i
reached for your hand
i really did
but your hand wasn’t there
it was in tiny pieces in
the overhead compartment
and i had only air
to hold on to
i cried then
as we lifted
everyone could see me
you said take me home
to the sea
and i promised
i went down into the water
with your teeth and
your bones pressed into
as the tiny pieces
fell slowly like snow
It’s generally safe to assume that when I’m not posting much it’s because there’s a lot going on. When I pick up the talking stick, it’s because I’ve had time to think—to transpose everything that’s happened into words. It takes me a while but you know I get there. There’s been a lot going on. I don’t know if I’m there.
For one, there’s my book.
Then, I had to move.
And the 2nd of October marked the one year anniversary of the last day I sat beside Pio and held his hand.
I took his ashes into the ocean on that day.
Also, not specifically related to any of this but happening simultaneously, I’ve started experimenting with intermittent fasting.
So there’s a lot going on inside of me, but I don’t know what to say about most of it yet. Here’s a feeble attempt to start:
I guess I can begin with an unsolicited piece of advice about what to say/not to say to your friend who has lost someone as significant as air. Do that person a favor and don’t make comments about how fast time has gone. Have I said this before? I’m sorry. I’m saying it again. Like, for example, “Wow! Time is flying, isn’t it? I can’t believe it’s already been one year!” Please don’t say that. Because to the person who lost someone, the first week took a year. I guarantee you that friend of yours feels like they have already lived without their person for 100 years and I promise you they don’t think it’s a nice feeling. Just so you know. There’s that.
LUCKY AND UNLUCKY
AMAZING reviews have been coming in about Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie. I’ve also had touching private conversations with friends who have experienced journeys that are similar to mine in one way or another. I can see now that I was right: this book did need to be written. And it did need to get out of my computer and into other hands. I’m so proud of it.
And, yeah, I moved. My landlord suddenly needed his extra house back, so I had to make other plans. I was SO SAD to get the news that I needed to move, but then something happened that you kind of won’t believe. I almost immediately (2 days?) found another house. It’s about the same price and it’s so close to the beach I can hear the waves all night long. If there is ever a tsunami, I will never know what hit me. But the best part is that back before I even knew him, Pio built this house. Can you believe it? It feels exactly like home. It is home. Caramelo and Ambrogio like it as much as cats can like a new house. Is all of this some random coincidence? I have no idea.
So again, I’m lucky. And unlucky.
I’m not ready to tell you about the ashes yet. I might have to write it as a poem because I don’t know now you make a thing like that fit into sentences.
And the book deserves more focus than what I’ve been giving it. You’re supposed to blog mercilessly about your new book and drive everyone who knows you insane with shameless self-promotion when it comes out. I don’t think I’ve been doing that. That would have been hard for me to do even if this was the only thing on my plate. It isn’t.
I have a good friend who does intermittent fasting and got me curious. I didn’t think I could do it. It sounded horrible. I thought I would be miserable or dizzy or grumpy or… I just thought it would be too hard or somehow unbearable. It isn’t. It isn’t easy, but what’s easy? Pretty much nothing worth doing is easy. And there’s the spiritual/emotional side of it too. I’m not sure I have words that give this any meaning, either, but I’m acknowledging it. Either fasting is a spiritual practice that turns out to be good for your body, or it is a health practice that turns out to be good for your spirit. I don’t really feel the need to differentiate. If you get curious, you can read about it on line. If it was anywhere near as bad as you think, I would not be doing it. I always say I’ll try anything once, and I didn’t think I could live with something as lame-sounding as “intermittent fasting” being the one thing I wimped out on and wouldn’t try. I’ll save that for something actually dangerous.
I didn’t take all the ashes. I saved some. That’s cheating, but whoever does the surviving gets to make at least a few of the decisions. I made up that rule.
I’ve been thinking a lot about bats. How they fly around in dark caves and no, they can’t see, but they “see” with other senses. Radar. They turn on their radar and they can tell where they are, where other things are, where they should go. I’ve been trying to navigate by radar. Because I can’t see shit. It’s all fog. But I try to see and listen with other senses. Sometimes when I walk or run on the deserted beach, I close my eyes and try to keep going in a straight line by listening to the sound of the ocean to the side of me, feeling the wind in my face, feeling the sun on my back. It isn’t easy but I can do it. I keep trying. I follow my gut, hoping that will teach it to give good advice.
I spent a whole year of evenings, essentially, lying in a hammock on a dark porch in silence trying to take it all in. Not unlike a bat in a cave, except I wasn’t hanging upside down. I was hanging though, in the hammock. Most people are afraid of or dislike bats and dark places and sadness. Most people run away from the cave. Not me. I am trying to see my way around in it like a bat.
I told you, there’s a lot going on and I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the words for it yet. But I’m trying. I never stop trying. I’ll get there.
I go out surfing in the morning. The ocean is warm and crystal clear–so clear I can see the ripples in the sand two or three meters below my feet as I sit on my board. Waiting. All I do is wait. I wait and wait and wait. I had no idea you could wait so long and still have so much time left. To wait.
The sun climbs. Sets of waves come. When I’m surfing I’m thinking about surfing. That’s all. Watching the horizon for a movement or a slight change in color that means the next set it coming. No more, no less. Most of surfing is waiting. For waves. For the right wave. For the right moment to paddle and stand. At least when I’m surfing, I know what I’m waiting for. Maybe that’s why it’s so much of a relief. Sometimes I surf well, sometimes I don’t. Sooner or later I’m thinking about breakfast.
I ride back to the shore and lay on the sand. Above me in the blue are clouds. I think about water. So much water. In me, around me, above me. I think about Pio and how he filled up with water. I think about how ashes are what’s left of a person when all of the water is gone. I wish it would rain on me right now and the water would be him. The same molecules. I supposed it’s not impossible.
Everything aches. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.
Eight months have gone by. Compared to the whole rest of my life, it’s nothing. It’s already been an eternity. I wait and wait and wait. As if, if I wait long enough… What? He will come back? I don’t think so. He’ll send me some kind of sign? For what? I’ll die too? Well there’s hardly any debating that. But is that what I’m waiting for? I don’t know. I’m waiting to find out what I’m waiting for. It’s taking such a long time.
I look at pictures of us and we have the same eyes. We have the same hair. I look at us and now I see why some said we looked like siblings. At the hospital in the last days, Pio’s roommate thought he was my father.
Time is not obeying the rules. Or maybe I’m finally learning to understand it. It doesn’t just go, it stands still, thick as giant waves of salt water. A friend tells me I seem to be moving forward. I say I don’t know about that, but thanks. I say thanks because I can tell it was a compliment. I don’t want to move forward. I want to move backward and I can’t. I don’t want to do anything. So I wait. It doesn’t feel to me like I’m moving any direction. It’s the same day over and over and over. I wait for a different day, but every day when I wake up, it’s the same one. So I wait.
Waiting is hard work. When you don’t know how long you will have to do it. How hard it will rain, how much the wind will blow. When you don’t know what you are waiting for. But it’s the only thing that seems possible, so you do it.
I don’t know what “grief” means, how it’s different than just being sad. What it looks like. How you do it. I don’t know what “healing” means either, how it’s different than “feeling better.” I don’t want to feel better. Except when I’m surfing. It doesn’t go away, but you learn to live with it, another friend says. Wise words. I don’t want it to go away. I want to live with it. If my sadness goes away from me, there will be nothing left of me. I will be water vapor like Pio. Clouds and ashes.
I sleep deeply. On cool or rainy nights, the cats cry to be let under the mosquito net with me. We have the whole bed. I eat. Don’t worry about that. Then the morning comes and it’s the same day again. I don’t mean to say that I am bored or depressed. I don’t think I am either one. I’m drawing you a picture of time. Eight months. Is that a long time? I don’t know. It’s the same as 10 years. Is ten years a long time? Not really. Eight months is much longer. There’s no use asking how long I have to wait. Waiting is just waiting. Watching the horizon for a movement or a slight change in color.
like a planet with
all of the deer have
fallen from my forests
and plummeted into
the eagles and butterflies have
oceans lift like
my silent riverbeds
hold no fish
trees cling tight
among clouds of
cacti and sage