“someone i loved once gave me a boxful of darkness. it took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” – mary oliver
“it’s not your fault. you didn’t do anything wrong,” i said.
sometimes, my mother was a diamond.
the hardest known mineral since antiquity,
diamonds can only be scratched by other diamonds.
goldsmiths like to call it “tough love”
but my brother and i knew it as childhood –
a time we wish lasted half the length it did,
living in a home whose walls we felt safer outside of.
he and i were pebbles,
who spent our years trampled beneath the
jeweled heels of galloping horses.
every step was another gem stomping on our necks,
another slap into the gravel: my mother tried to coax beauty
into ugly stones like us by powdering our faces to dust.
but we were just pebbles, worthless until treated otherwise,
made for tossing in the river,
to see how many times we could skip before we drowned.
to see how wide our ripples could spread,
each one a little more lifeless than the next.
she tied necklace chains around our wrists,
and studded belts across our backs,
another gem — “it’s good for your posture,” she said.
no wonder she only fed us organic foods,
insisting on natural but bitter ingredients,
we drank orange juice only if it had been beaten from pulp.
downed vinegar with every mouthful of discipline,
at least we were well-behaved children.
once in a while, i accidentally catch a glimpse of the scars.
the sight of them surprises me, because i rarely look
at those places on my brother’s body
anymore. but i’ve learned that pain doesn’t become invisible
if you avoid making eye contact with it.
hatred cannot become a better man,
unless you let it escape from the prison you built.
so i have stopped trying to understand what you were thinking
when you sewed his lips together with needle and string,
why he was forced to sleep in the garage for a month,
how i snuck leftovers to the basement
because his hunger was never a metaphor.
i have come to terms with the fact that i may not find
the answers to these questions,
but forgiveness requires of me that i stop asking them,
because i have always known why.
is that sometimes,
love is a diamond who we cannot blame for
being the sharpest and strongest jewel.
love is a beautiful knife, like the blade she once held at his throat.
and love may act like a murderer, but it will not take your life.
because love also saves you
from the people that love you
that they hurt you.
mama, three months ago you hugged me for the first time.
my gut reaction was to raise my arms in self defense,
but i froze up instead, and locked them to my sides like an orphan
finally meeting the one who gave her away.
i didn’t know where to put my arms,
didn’t know how to reply because tender hands
have never been a part of your body language.
but your touch that day was round and quiet
and gentle enough to hold someone
as fragile as a pebble.
To those who have stopped believing in first times, clear your mind.
If there are second chances, there will always be first times.
You are still the children of your mothers,
On bad days, you are your best friend’s anonymous hero. On good ones, you are your own.
You are descendants of explorers who once cupped moondust in their palms
and felt a pulse louder than their own.
You are ancestors of future prodigies who will save this world from what we are doing to it.
They will forgive us for our crimes and ask more of their own children.
You are who you were before you stopped wanting to be.
Before you settled for less than what you deserved
but told yourself it was the best you could get.
Remember the way you spoke your name when you were still proud of the person it labeled.
Remember your second grade birthday cake, and ask yourself why everything nowadays is tasteless.
Find the colors of your dreams before they greyed in the dustbowls of your eyes.
Find your first heart, the one you grew a couple sizes too good for,
and put it back on your sleeve where it’s meant to be.
Because you are beautiful, beauty yet to behold itself,
like the first ring of “middle c” in a deaf man’s ear after signing his last breath,
like the hallelujah chorus of a godless but holy nation
who doesn’t need a heaven to tell it right from wrong.
Perhaps forgiveness for our enemies grows inside bombs and crumbled buildings.
Perhaps every man’s secret is stored in the chest of a woman he loves,
because our secrets are the same.
So let us praise each other’s deepest shames,
Let the sunlight slap your scars in the face and remind them
that nothing on your body is undeserving of warmth.
Your body is a miracle waiting to change someone’s life.
You have the backbone of Demeter,
the heel of Achilles that doesn’t cover itself with armour,
but lets vulnerability breathe properly.
You have the eyes of God herself
and the palms of an Empire who knows its future because it knows its history.
So get excited for Monday mornings.
Spin proudly, across broad street in red heels and a rippling yellow dress.
Rush hour will forget why it was ever in a hurry.
The 65 year old man on the corner will ask you where you’ve been all his life.
and you will say – “I’ve been busy asking myself what I’m doing with my life.”
Your life is a handpicked continuation of someone else’s that didn’t make it this far.
So take a moment, feel the patch of skin behind your ear,
inside your forearm, between your first and second toe —
Yes, there are tender places where we have all been spared of callouses
from walking too far, too late at night with people who wanted too much from us.
We are young in all the same parts —
our palms are still pink as the sidewalk chalk we used to spell our names backwards with
And there were once days we didn’t mind so much the backwards —
when you still believed that if you cut a doll’s hair, it would grow back
that if you ate too many sunflower seeds, they would blossom in your belly.
That was before everyone started asking each other
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Who says we ever stop growing?
And why must we be something besides what we are now?
I’ve come to the conclusion that my best days are reincarnations of my childhood.
When I decided I wanted to be a teacher, waitress, professional sumo wrestler
and President of the United States between the beginning and end of recess.
When I was forgetful enough never to run out of first times.
And there are second chances everywhere, so there will always be first times.
you cradle my skin in your palms
as rivers rich in oil run through them.
gold mines lodged between every finger
a crevice of silver seeping through my hair,
we have never felt so wealthy as tonight.
so willing to drown between the strands,
you climb the tightrope of body with kisses
for i have harvested many a knot
tangled in my stomach
split ends halving my backbone.
yet you unravel the maze of heavy
place my beginning before end
and everything else in order, single file
i know this for when we are done,
i am a straight line.
tonight, you have sucked out all the poetry
long clogging my arteries.
found an open pore for deep breathing,
how long i have missed the gasp of daylight
words struggling for freedom from womb,
for the thrill of glossing fingers over face
and remembering, finally,
that all is beautiful as is.
you remind me tonight
that i am beautiful as is.
you meditate on my dimensions
as if they were the fourth,
a pandora of seashore and firework.
i have never felt so full of treasure
as when you set foot to find it,
breathing mists of prayer upon my being
twisting arches of spine into arrows and praise.
you bring me back a bucket of laughter
and armfuls of gaze between us.
i did not know i was capable
of holding such foreign but beautiful objects.
amongst the rubble and debris,
we tumble in blackness across the earth
love me crooked as tonight,
but leave me a straight line
when we are done.
I stare back at the girl in the mirror, watching her eyelids droop like frowns and the bags beneath them look like they’ve been holding a gaze for far too long. Time has vandalized her face with wrinkles, so she raises a white flag and says she’s ready to grow old.
She tells me that the world has always made her sleepy, that life is just one really long struggle to stay awake. And I tell her not to let it win, but all she does in response is yawn.
She says she wants to live in a house twirling on the axis of night, spin dizzy to the rhythm of turn-table dreams, and put the soundtrack on repeat so the sun could never squeeze in enough playing time to rise and shove her back to square one again.
And so she spends hours, ruthlessly scraping at the edges of her life with sleep, as if it’s some kind of sandpaper, trying to smooth out all the corners.
The upper right hand corner, where she can’t help but feel at home in his blind spot. The upper left hand corner, where her little brother dodges blows along in the ring while she pretends that he’s a good fighter. The bottom right hand corner where she found the road to revolution, only to realize that she was chasing her tail.
And the bottom left hand corner, where God fed his rat the last crumbs of her faith.
She connects the four corners into the frame of her mattress and collapses inside, convinced that sleep will know where all the pieces go, that it will plug in the holes between her indifference and her existence. She expects that by daybreak the stars will have formed a line pointing in the direction of the nearest exit.
I read her lips in the mirror as she mouths the words: If being jaded means that I’m aging, then I’ve been well on my way to dying ever since he left.
So yes, sometimes I fall asleep to fall off the face of the earth, thinking that gravity will turn on its head and lift my soul out of the debris. I strangle my troubles in dreams, shove their necks further into the mud. But try not to think of myself as a murderer. Because I’ve found that troubles never come up for air, but don’t run out of breath either. I think they’re trying to teach me how to breathe again.
So I’m just going to trust them. I’ll scream your name into a canyon until I can’t hear it echoing anymore. Then I’ll know it’s safe to come of limbo. I’ll grow my hair out again. Place my heart next to the fire so its teeth will stop chattering. Maybe I’ll even stay up late from now on.
Because I know that the only reason night crucifies herself, is so the days may come back to life. I will come back to life.
Carve me a new heartbeat from the flesh of my pain. It’ll beat so loud you’ll think I’m knocking at the door. But I closed your door a long time ago.
And now, like a refugee, all I want is to have something to look forward to again.
Tomorrow, the sun will fall to its knees and beg me to stare it in the face. I pray that I won’t be the first to look away.