Originally posted on Perspectives on life, universe and everything:
I am a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jew
I am a Christian, Bhuddist, Pagan and few
I can be Sunni, Shia, Sufi too
Cathholic, Protestant can be true
I am what I am, what I will be
placed in my coffin people will see
from all the religions I just call
I am a Human above all
The Conundrum (Splitting the Baby)
for kimberly mays twigg
(originally published in Poetry St.Corner)
Sometimes I ask myself why I didn’t
give her back sooner. Would it have
been easier then, before I knew her
personality, the sweet meaning of her
every sound, every movement? Already
I loved her smell, the weight of her
small head on my chest, already I’d
soothed and fed and washed her forty
days running. That other mother gave
life, I gave only touch, warmth, comfort.
I couldn’t help it; I fell in love,
it happens like that, quickly, without
thought. I didn’t know how it felt
to be someone’s mother. When I couldn’t
become pregnant, I cried for days.
My insides felt soft and hollow
like an empty purse. This little girl
loves me, I know she does. She reflects
color, a rainbow back to my eyes,
in her smallest toe resides my universe.
I lie next to her at night, breathing
the rich, salty fragrance of her hair,
feeling her body growing, expanding
to meet mine, and over our private nest
flows time, but for as long as we can
we rest outside death’s pull, allowing
all that to pass by, content with this
lovely darkness, this glimpse of heaven.
Sometimes I ask myself why I gave her up
in the first place. It wasn’t easy, not
even then; I haven’t held her since
the day she was born, but I know her,
like she’ll know me, without thinking.
I began her life, I walked with her body
in mine for nine months, we were never apart,
not for a second. I called her my daughter.
That woman has taken care of my poor baby
for years, but in her heart it’s only me
she’ll call Mama. Any fool knows this,
anybody with a brain will tell you adoption
is always a mistake. It was a crisis
of self-esteem, more than anything.
A momentary weakness, where I thought
maybe I wasn’t strong enough to keep
her safe. Once, during all this trouble,
I almost gave up. All I had in my hands
was a pink plastic bracelet, but I
couldn’t forget holding her, I couldn’t
forget how her toes curled against her foot,
so small, so clean, so much like my own.
Now she’ll never have to wonder whether
I loved her, she’ll never have to discover
where I live. The time we spent apart
will be forgotten; she’s young and there’s
plenty of time for our life to weave itself
back together, to re-create that lost paradise.
Sometimes I ask myself why I couldn’t
have had them both forever. Is love
so smart that it can tell the difference
between one drop of blood and another?
Being born was harder the second time,
though life at home smells just as sweet;
the weight of this new mother, her reassuring
size, pressed against me like a heavy sheaf
of autumn grain, the harvest of all dreams.
Dimness is where that sad part of me lives now,
the part that slept near the other, warm shadow-woman
of my first days, hands that held fast, then
were made to let go. Dimness, and a strangely
focused longing, a lifelong vocation to tell
people (remember, I have no patience for fools,
none at all) it’s never as simple as it seems,
a child’s soul can travel to all four corners,
filling even the most tortured shape imaginable.
God knows, when I have my own daughter, she’ll
ask how it was to be torn apart by love, and
I’ll have to tell her: it was a beauty and
a terror and a fiery cross, and like Jesus,
though I felt the need to exclaim aloud my
body’s pain, I knew that gaining the knowledge
of good and evil had a price; those of us who’ve
paid it don’t for a minute regret our sacrifice.
Yes, it hurt, yes, it left scars, and yes, now and
again I have trouble sleeping — but, don’t we all?
The Tortoise and the Hare
My grandmother told me 80 million times when I was young that I would be a good mother, and I stupidly believed her, since I had an easy time babysitting. I could always trick kids into distraction, get them to stop fighting, whining, whatever. I was a master with other people’s children. When my own child was born, I fell apart. I forgot everything I’d ever learned about babies except that she could stop breathing at any moment. My husband took to sleeping in the guest room, and I didn’t blame him. If I could have, I’d have slept somewhere else, too. Mostly, my husband didn’t understand why I got angry at my five-years-dead mother all over again, after Shana was born.
“Aren’t you ever going to let it go?” he asked. “Your mother was only human.”
“I was helpless, I was small, as small as Shana. I know now what it’s like to be someone’s mother.”
“She was only nineteen when you were born.”
“So? I’m only twenty-six. What does age have to do with it?”
“It was a different time. Expectations were different.”
“What do you know about it? You come from that fucking Ozzie-and-Harriet background.” He had no idea, none at all. He didn’t get it; he couldn’t get it. You cannot see what you have never seen. Your mind cannot recognize the pattern and identify it. My husband’s parents had not caused him any major trauma, ever. It was like trying to explain the solar system’s position in the Milky Way Galaxy to someone who believed the world was flat, had edges you could fall off, and was centered under God’s hand-held bowl of stars. He sighed.
“You’re right. But I know it’s not healthy to stay angry about things you can’t fix.” It was to become his endless refrain.
His mother stayed home and took care of him, and his brothers and sisters. I was the only child of a divorced and badly-remarried working mom, growing up in the first generation of latch-key kids, addicted to the soaps and the talk shows and Star Trek. I’d turn the air conditioner down icy-cold (against strict instructions to keep it on “Low Cool”), lie stretched out perfectly straight like a contented slug in my purple beanbag chair, and rejoice in the house’s stillness. When my mother and my stepfather got home, the horror movie started. Mostly I’m still mad because my mother was an unrepentant drunk. She didn’t take care of me, she wasn’t my friend: she was the enemy.
My own daughter, Shana, was filled with dancing, and when she was a tiny baby I nicknamed her “the tortoise,” since the image was in such sharp contrast to her true nature. Shana moved as quickly and easily as spring wind blows through tree limbs, her body twirling round and round like fresh green leaves until she would laugh with dizziness. Even when she’d done something she wasn’t supposed to and I was mad, she’d break into some cockamamie imitation of a Broadway show tune and start high-stepping, and despite myself, I’d laugh. I’d bite my lip to keep a straight face, but she always knew. Not once did she ever get spanked.
The worst part is, the entire month before Shana died, I was living in a motel. Things at home had gotten too gruesome. My husband wouldn’t allow Shana to spend any nights with me at the motel, because the kiddie divorce counselor didn’t think it was a good idea. I went along with him because I felt so guilty for leaving. When she was in the hospital, in the coma, I slept with her every night — I had missed her so much at the motel. I’ll never forget the look on her small face when she got hit by the car out in front of the house: she was laughing; she literally didn’t know what hit her.
Funny thing is, it was somehow worse than if she’d seen the car coming at her and gotten scared. Of course, I secretly blamed the accident on my husband. And of course, he secretly blamed it on me. Neither one of us could look the other in the eye after that. He wanted nothing to do with her while she was in the coma, though he cleared out her room afterwards. I took two sleeping pills and when I woke up, it was as if she’d never lived in her room. Everything was bagged. “Don’t throw it out,” I said.
“Put in the attic. Please.”
“We might have another child someday.”
“No,” he said, but he did as I asked. I just wanted him to cry with me. I wanted to try understand what it was like to be our dead daughter’s surviving father; I wanted him to try to understand what it was like to be her mother. I wanted us to make allowances for each other’s frailties. Neither of us knew how.
Shana was born in a brick house, in our king-sized bed, under the supervision of a plump, red-headed midwife who wore the dowdiest clothes I’d ever seen — but that made me trust her. She cared nothing for fashion trends, only for delivering healthy babies. My husband was out of town when my water broke, since we hadn’t expected Shana for another week, but he caught the first flight home. I had wanted him to cut the cord, but I did it instead. I thought of eating the placenta and laughed. The midwife took it away in a Ziploc bag.
“Look at that little rosebud mouth,” the midwife said as she wiped Shana with warm, damp washcloths.
All I could see was my baby’s crushed nose. I didn’t know then that it would unfurl in a matter of hours. She looked like a boxer who’d had a bad fight! Being born is, apparently, no picnic. She’d been stuck in the birth canal for hours. She whimpered quietly when the midwife laid her on my chest. She had no interest in nursing — so of course I immediately worried she’d starve to death.
Despite our physical closeness, Shana was always emotionally closer to her father than me. I was of a piece with the wallpaper, the carpet, the furniture. Finally, after her father and I separated and I wasn’t just part of the wallpaper or the carpet or the furniture any more, she started missing me too. Until then, I truly believed she did not love me. Don’t tell me all children love their mothers — I know it’s not true. I didn’t love mine, for example, not after the age of eight.
As a child, I even dreamed I killed my mother. Years later, my developmental psychology teacher told me I couldn’t possibly have dreamed such a thing, I must be mistaken. But I knew I had. I had stabbed her with a large kitchen knife, then thrown the knife into the lake out back of my old house. Many times I consciously, very consciously, wanted to kill her. I saw the same ferocious glare of death in my tiny daughter’s eyes, too, but unlike a child, I understood and forgave: it was my job.
I’ve been bleeding for three days. I feel like a bad person for hoping it’s a miscarriage. On the other hand, since I’ve already scheduled an abortion, I feel a miscarriage would be the best possible luck. Julie says maybe I should have it. She doesn’t know I’ve already ruled that out. Though I have enough money to raise a kid on my own, I don’t have the energy, mental or physical. I had a hard enough time with Shana, and I only had her for six years, and my ex-husband helped when he wasn’t too busy.
It was stupid, really, really stupid. The kind of mistake that teenagers make, or virgins. See, Benny thought he was sterile. His wife had only gotten pregnant twice the whole time they were married, and both times she’d had miscarriages. He wasn’t even sure the pregnancies were his. She cheated on him a lot. Anyway, he had convinced himself he was sterile. And the funny thing is, I believed him. I am usually a skeptic. But he was always so sure about everything; it blows my mind. My ex-husband, when he found out that I believed Benny to be sterile, asked me how I could be so stupid. I didn’t feel stupid; I felt sheltered. Benny told me he couldn’t get me pregnant, and I thought, how compassionate of him. He seemed like the most considerate man alive. I had sex with such perfect confidence.
The orgasms were the other issue. I’d never had one before that wasn’t self-administered. Everybody thought I was so fucked-up to leave my ex-husband. They didn’t know how bad our sex life was. I had sex with him only because he got so depressed and grouchy otherwise. Irritable and angry. It was awful. I’d give him blow jobs, hand jobs, anything to avoid intercourse. Maybe we did it once a month, on average.
Once, in the car, Benny and I almost came from just kissing. Why is this even remotely interesting? Death, that’s what the real issue is. Death comes too soon, and I’m bringing it to something even sooner. This isn’t a baby mouse we’re casually discussing, you know. Benny and his joints and antique Time magazines. How dumb I was, sitting there getting high with an idiot like that! Benny looked like some kind of young Father Christmas. Even had the belly. Benny sat there, sucking on his joint, sucking on my lips, worried about his random drug tests. God-damned Army shit. Why I didn’t just leave him there, I’ll never know.
I don’t feel good. Blood clots keep slipping out between my legs. I want another child, just not one I’ll have to raise by myself. Not that Benny wouldn’t make an effort — it’s just I don’t know what his effort would consist of. My ex-husband would have at least provided money and some child care. Benny isn’t in a position to help me with a child; he can’t help himself. This is terrible. I wanted another child, and this is terrible. I can’t seem to get a grip on anything, on any part of my life whatsoever. Without Shana here, I feel my head floating off into outer space. I’m waiting for a visitation from God or something. Everything seems so fucking profound. I’m so restless. I’m going to jump out of my skin.
Whether I miscarry or not, I’ll probably have to have surgery anyway, because the “tissue” hasn’t passed out yet, and with that much bleeding, that’s worrisome. The nurse said people differ on this issue, because women have been having “incomplete pregnancies” since the beginning of time. Who am I to make the decision to bring, or not to bring, another person into the world right now? I can’t even tie my own shoes anymore. God help me if I had to earn a living and be a single mother. I’m a rotten speck of humanity. I hate myself. Oh, God, just what Mother used to say. I swore I’d never say it.
God help me. God save me. I want to die. I can’t think of what to do next. Nothing seems appropriate. I have too much responsibility, yet not enough. I am worthless. I am a worthless woman. I am a woman. I wanted to be a boy when I was fourteen. That was twenty years ago, and I’m still not sure what the advantages of being a woman are. I tried to find them. Maybe it is a punishment, like that old Hindu neighbor of mine used to say.
I’m drinking wine, just like Mom. I’m following in her footsteps. Eight years left to live. Then who will find me on the floor? My mother is dead, so is my daughter, so it won’t be them. I’m skating down the slope and cannot stop. Speed attracts more speed. Fools attract only other fools. Benny and his blue-collar ethics, his chain-smoking mother offering to raise this child. I feel so parasitical and Wasp-y in comparison. So effete, so elite. So worthless. Such a stinking piece of garbage. The dogs don’t even love me anymore. What is Benny doing now? Why didn’t I want him here? I wish for some company, yet I’m glad I’m alone. God, oh God.
What men and women like about marriage is the stability. What they don’t like about it is the stability. My first lover was a good introduction to sex. Very few hang-ups. Two or three times a night. He had good muscles. He’s married, but he still calls me occasionally. Is that a good sign, or a bad one? And exactly who is it good, or bad, for? Dude says he would love to have an affair with an ex-girlfriend, specifically me, and his wife doesn’t mind either. He’d like to come over tonight, but he lives 3000 miles away — a bit far. Besides, I’m busy having or not having a miscarriage, or having or not having an abortion, or having or not having a D&C, as the case may be. I’m really just dreaming of a white Christmas. Just like the ones I never, ever, ever knew except from the movies. “May all your Christmases be white,” isn’t that how the song goes?
Suffering Jets, Bowling Litionists, and Peace Knicks, a fable
My mom’s always trying to teach me History. She says it’s important for us kids to know all the bad stuff that happened in the olden days so we won’t be as stupid as all those olden people were. My mom seems really mad at those olden people. She says human beings could have lived in a “paradise-on-earth” if it wasn’t for a whole bunch of bad ideas they thought up and then were stupid enough to get stuck on. Just as if they were GOOD ideas! My mom thinks good ideas are real important. I’m not so sure because I can’t always tell the difference between one of her “good” ideas and one of the olden people’s “bad” ideas, but I’d never tell her that because if I did I think she’d go nutsy-futsy just like Nadine Houck’s dad did, and then I’d be pretty much alone except for that mean bunch of kids living on that hill up from the lake. They’re not mean so much as they are just pissed because nobody’s really around to care for them and make them read their schoolbooks every morning.
Anyway, my mom’s always trying to teach me History, and so I try to learn it. Like today, she got started on the “god-damned East-West mutual suicide pact.” She says that back when there were lots of olden people, (she says there were BILLIONS, but that nutso-futso and I don’t believe her), everybody actually KNEW what would happen if there was “an all-scale nuclear confrontation.” Like, they made TV shows and movies about it, and people wrote all kinds of books and stuff, and they had big “world conferences” and all, and lots of people even made stuff for people to buy so that when the “all-scale nuclear confrontation” came, they’d have water to drink and canned peas and tuna fish and EVERYTHING.
And like people even built bomb shelters in their yards and stuff. My mom says this is “evidence of the world-group insanity” of the early twenty-hundreds and that I should mark it WELL in my soul. So anyways, all the olden people actually KNEW what could happen and all. Which is real hard for me to believe sometimes. Like if my Mom and me actually KNEW that the roof of our house was going to fall in, and so we bought big steel umbrellas and helmets and stuff, and kept living right in the SAME actual house but all the time acting real worried about the roof caving in and talking like MAD about how to prevent it and all, but really not doing anything to brace the ceiling. And EVEN having some guy show us pictures of what our blood would look like spread all over the floor. But then we’d just buy bigger steel umbrellas and harder helmets but we STILL wouldn’t leave the house. Damn, isn’t it hard to believe that those dumb olden people could actually ACT like that?
So anyway, the whole of Earth really, really KNEW that they were in a big pile of trouble. But people did ALL sorts of stuff to “distract their lunatic sensibilities,” my mom says, and they’d do stuff like jump out of big airplanes to feel what it was like while all the time they just kept stocking up on the god-damned steel umbrellas and helmets.
My mom said that one time in the middle of the twentieth century and towards the 70’s some olden people actually and truly came to their senses and try to yell loud at all the “sleeping fools,” my mom says. She says that she read all about them in college and always wondered why they quit yelling. She says that groups of good people would get together all down in history, but that as soon as they had “achieved their one objective goal,” they would trickle down and eventually dry up. She talks about the Suffering Jets and the Bowling Litionists and the New York Peace Knicks and that they all lost their momentum in the end.
Anyway, my mom says that HER theory of what in HELL happened to people is they had plenty of guilt, but no feeling of responsibility to go along with it. Like they felt bad about their “sins of omission” and all, and they hung their heads about it, but what it REALLY was, was just “crocodile tears.” Like they would say, “Gee, I feel SO guilty, but gee, if I felt guilty about every bad thing in the world I wouldn’t be able to SLEEP at night and my face would break out and I wouldn’t be having FUN and stuff.” Like they had a mental maturity age “of about three,” my mom says.
Sand Mandala (Agnostic’s Prayer)
I. Candles, Burning
The world is not important. The world is an illusion.
My daughter’s shoulder blades, ivory carvings under
the warm, silken blanket of her skin, might as well be
made of wax. Her hair, its smell of cherry-almond
shampoo, is no more than a flame, consuming tissue
paper. She will be gone before the universe notices her.
Today I saw Tibetan Buddhist monks creating a sand
mandala, a round picture made from layering different
colors of sand. Shimmering, resplendent and complicated,
a yard in diameter, it took three unbroken days to make it.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m. they’re going to sweep it away.
This creation of beauty then its eradication is symbolic.
II. Lessons, Learned
My tears are irrelevant. My suffering is insignificant.
The monks believe our material existence is transitory,
well-nigh unimportant. They were relatively young
though it was hard to tell because of their shaved heads.
They all wore plain maroon pants, sleeveless maroon
tunics. I walked by them, entering the building, shied
away, tried not to look. But they seemed to radiate
serene alertness, a lack of angst. They didn’t flinch
but gazed at me, through me, beyond me, plainly,
readily. As a little girl, I wanted to be a nun.
Discipline of the flesh is holy. To contradict desire
is sacred. The world is a sickening dream we long
to wake from. I dressed one year as St. Theresa
for Halloween. I was in Catholic school for kindergarten
and first grade, and came home one day to tell my mother
I couldn’t wait to die and go to heaven so I could be
with Jesus. She put me in public school the next day.
She was dismayed. I had seen dead animals
in the kitchen, plenty. One time I saw a chicken
roasting in the oven, asked what it was. “A chicken,”
she said. The earth is not significant. The earth
is an hallucination. I got hysterical, pleading with her
to take it out of the oven. She fibbed, told me
there were two kinds of chickens, one with feathers,
for running around outside, the other for eating.
It relieved my frenzy, then. What about now?
My life is an illusion, my life is empty. I shovel food
into the mouths of other unfulfilled beings. Ceaselessly,
I’m on the horns of a dilemma. Doesn’t every suburban
housewife secretly, in her heart of hearts, want to run off
on spiritual pilgrimage, at least each and every time
the dog vomits on the rug? Yes, I live like a spy.
III. Emptiness, Filled
I feel like an undercover agent most of the time.
I just don’t get the whole show. Something’s not been
explained fully to me. I’m waiting for my operating instructions,
but my contact is nowhere to be found. I don’t know
if I’m religious. I never have the strength to decide
if I believe. From that first plump, naked chicken in the oven
I cried for, at five — chickens have their own heaven,
my mother lied, bright with love — from that first dark
lamentation over the insolence of death I wanted only
to understand the enigma of creation, to fathom the depth
of my intimate source. Fitted out as Saint Theresa
it felt sinful to accept candy, I wanted more than anything
to sanctify those hands moving with meek generosity
toward my outstretched pillowcase. Yes, I saw myself
with bright blue skin, leading pale cows to drink.
Or robed in red, a fluffy hat atop my head; a hesitant crown.
I could easily put fragrant powdered saffron in my hair,
eat nothing but fruit picked off the ground, sweep the earth
bare before my steps with a handmade straw broom.
All creeds appeal to me inside the inquisitive casement
of my brain: a fickle twitch of nerves, chemicals, proud
of its weak pulses of electricity. The difficulty dwells
deeper, amid blood, bone, sinew: a sad hollow space,
never filling up. Afraid to give over to a thing I can’t control –
or at least charm. I want to dance in green meadows,
wrap ribbons around a pole, follow the golden ring.
I imagine flinging myself into cool grass, crying from joy.
The world is unimportant. The world is an illusion.
IV. Waiting, But Not Endlessly
Everything will be all right, the melancholy quietness says,
as I lie solid on the ground. I feel resigned to my fate,
steeled to endure the torments ahead — that one last breath,
that one ultimate moment of longing. Have I received
the divine gift of faith? I still sit for hours, eyes closed,
waiting for that voice, those words, to lift the roof
of my skull and cleanse my fears away like silvery water.
I will, after all, be gone before the universe notices me.