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This poem won third place in the 2020 Jessamyn West Writing Contest
At This Very Moment
I cannot abide abiding here
inside my mind’s old home behind my eyes,
seeing only what my eyes can see,
confined only to places
my body brings me.
When I am certain
at this very moment
the roan deer are galloping
across the snowy peaks of northern Spain,
and violet swallows are building their nests
in silent desert canyons,
snow is falling softly in Nepal
on the brows of monkeys
huddled in pine trees,
and waves are crashing in Patagonia
grinding stones into sand,
massive pods of humpback whales
are gliding unseen beneath the ocean,
and uncountable trees are sleeping patiently
in the frozen north
blanketed in snow.
at this very moment,
a newborn baby
abandoned on the thorny ground
is whimpering too softly to hear,
and a suicidal girl is clutching
the railing of a bridge somewhere.
And sometimes I am the whale
and I am the tree hunched over
with my sap slowly rising,
and I am the swallow flying
in a peach-colored canyon,
the roan deer running,
and the dancing snow.
But I am also the baby
with a thorn in my back,
the deafening crash,
and the suffering beast,
and sometimes I am
the girl letting go.
And Then Another Breath
Consider the faithful earth,
spinning in its solitary orbit;
orb of life.
While I spend my days
acquiring things, disposing of things,
opening, closing, turning, speaking,
moving here, there,
and back again.
All it is really,
is breathing in, breathing out,
and then another breath.
Perhaps the earth is a living thing,
in all my frantic doings,
I am nothing more
than the earth’s breath,
and then another breath.
Collect My Dust
When I die
Collect my dust
But do not remake me a woman
Make of me a stone
A rock reposing on the lap of the earth
Resplendent in the cold moonlight
Empty of utterance
Of no particular use
Except perhaps to toss into the sea
One ecstatic splash
The only word I speak
I would like to be
one of those people
they interview in expensive
printed on stylishly recycled paper
whose family has owned
a vineyard in the wine country
For four generations.
A blur of wealth in the background,
a bloated glass of 99-point Pinot,
a point away from perfect,
with statements like—
"I love Dali and Diego Rivera
exploring museums on my days off
and listening to Marvin Gaye
when I’m cooking at home."
Instead I sit here
on a cold summer morning
turning the pages and
absently rubbing a hair on my chin.
Excerpt from TURNING INTO A PUMPKIN-
Getting Old is like something that creeps up behind you, then jumps out from behind the couch and scares the hell out of you. It’s like this: You’re going along minding your young business; you’re twenty, you’re thirty, you’re forty, forty-five… you feel invincible, all your life you’ve been Young, you look pretty damn good, your butt still looks fabulous in your skinny jeans. Your future seems like a realm of infinite possibility. Men your own age are attracted to you. People refer to you as “young lady” or “miss.”
Then suddenly, that creeping thing takes a flying leap. You hit forty-nine, fifty, fifty-five, and in the span of five or ten years you are now officially Old. AARP makes its move. There’s no turning back, you cannot file an appeal. Wow, that happened quickly. Your future is no longer infinite; your remaining years can now be tallied up quite accurately, according to an algorithm set up by the Social Security Administration. Now, the men who are attracted to you are twenty years older than you. People refer to you as “ma’am,” or even worse, the dreaded “old lady.”
As a Newly Old person I’ve learned there that there are tiers of oldness. When I was Young, if I perceived someone as Old, they were just Old. Old was Old. Now, I realize that sixty-old is way different than eighty-old. You see, no matter how Old you get, it is vitally important to remember that you are still Young compared to people who are even older than you.
Another thing I’ve learned is that being Old lasts a really long time. You’re Young for thirty, thirty-five years, but then you’re old for fifty, sixty.
Might as well settle in and get used to it.
This novel excerpt from The Butterfly Wing, won an honorable mention in the 2019 Soul-Making Keats Literary Contest in San Francisco.
Just the weight of the bottle in her hand soothed her. It’s cool polished curve, its narrow, phallic neck. The perfect diameter to wrap her hand around, just enough weight to satisfy, to offer pardon. The urgent twist of the corkscrew into the cork, the satisfying pop. The naked, bulbous glass, impossibly thin, its vulnerable flower-like stem, its transparent bowl a smooth promise in her palm. Then the music. The lyrical, gurgling, ruby-colored stream as the glass filled higher and higher, the liquid notes ascending. The lift of the glass to the nose, the press of her lips to its cusp, its vicious perfume, the sucking in, the ripple across the tongue and down the throat, the rising release.
Meg lifted the glass like a precious object and stepped barefoot across the veined marble kitchen tiles, then collapsed onto her cream-colored, top-grain leather, eight-way hand-tied, kiln-dried, ten-thousand-dollar designer couch. She knew every detail of every inch of this house and everything in it, having made a mutually exhaustive decision with Jim about everything from recessed versus pendant lighting to brass or bronze drawer pulls. Now they both realized it had been a gluttonous exercise in distraction from a marriage that had lost its substance, compensating by going into debt on Sub-Zero appliances, hand-rubbed hardwoods, a five-thousand-dollar bocce ball court they were bored with after using twice. With the divorce, their dream house was irrelevant, but the debt was unrelenting.
The wine helped. Drinking too much was bad, but being bad felt good, she’d so rarely done it. Drinking was acceptable adult misbehavior. Especially a fine Napa Valley Cabernet in a Riedel wine glass. How bad could it be?
Meg took a long sip. More of a swig, really. So many times when the urge came to pour a drink, she’d tried to stop herself, using every contrivance of her willpower, intellectualizing that it was bad for her health, her weight, it affected her work, her daughter. But with every attempt, the “shoulds” fell away, and the desire for oblivion won. The power of addiction astonished her. What was so powerful about drinking that she couldn’t wrestle it into submission with her stubborn will? It was a reward, she realized, a guilty pleasure, and that was the problem, she had no other pleasures. She deserved it. Life owed it to her. The alcohol rush allowed her the delusion that everything was okay. She never felt that way otherwise. She existed in a state of constant worry. She just wanted everything to be okay. If she finished this bottle she could pretend everything was okay.
Except she’d always hated pretending.
Meg looked down at the wine glass cradled in her hands, her lipstick prints smearing the rim like the kisses of a desperate lover. A lifetime of regret was contained in the moment between lifting the glass and swallowing. How could she surrender her self-respect to this fermented purple puddle? Suddenly she couldn’t stand the feel of the bloated glass in her hands anymore, its polished lie, the sour, inky liquid. Before her impaired senses could catch up, she saw the glass soar in slow motion into the air, the wine sloshing upward in seeming alarm, then the doomed vessel arced downward to the stony floor, bursting in a hideous explosion onto the cold, marble tile, splattering the white couch like a spray of fresh blood.
Meg stood and surveyed the damage to the impeccable room, then turned away, leaving the wine to drip down the creamy, white leather as she walked upstairs to bed.