Category Archives: children of alcoholics

Giant Redwoods, a poem

illustration muir woods 2

Giant Redwoods

(Statements in italics taken from Ethics, by Baruch de Spinoza)

Look farther and farther toward thin blue sky, until the green feathery tops of the trees are like the northern pole on some dream planet.  Put the anger back in its bottle. These trees are generous.  Hatred can never be good.

Your carsickness from the ride up the mountain begins to fade, leaving behind a breathless, weepy echo not unlike your first religious fervor.  Hatred is increased through return of hatred, but may be destroyed by love.

When have you not been afraid?  The random can be scrutinized for meaning, the puzzle solved, when surveyed long & carefully enough.  Anything may be accidentally the cause of either hope or fear.

These trees have plenty of time.  As a child, you stared at Jesus’ sad face for hours, wishing you could marry him  — wondering what it was that made him love you.  Could you sacrifice yourself for the sins of the world, if it was that simple & necessary? Cathedrals turn us small and vulnerable again, for reasons both blessed & cursed.  Devotion is love towards an object which astonishes us.

Vague, starry eyes like yours feel at home here; the air is weighty, burdensome & solemn. You’ve loved trees before; this is different.  These trees have plenty of time – more time than you.  If we love a thing which is like ourselves, we endeavor as much as possible to make it love us in return.

Your nerves are suddenly frozen, by the unaccustomed richness of perfect light.  Your guide is tall & slender, hesitant to speak.  Her mother has the tattooed forearm of a Polish Jew of a certain age.  The knowledge of good and evil is nothing but an idea of joy or sorrow.  Sorrow is [a hu]man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection.

These trees have plenty of time.  She touches your wrist, and for a moment, you, too, want to grow taller, leaving the surface of the earth behind forever.  Shyly, she picks up a tiny pinecone, smaller than a toy.  You both laugh when she tells you this is their seed.  Joy is [a hu]man’s passage from a less to a greater perfection.

These trees have plenty of time.  And all around, their wise, fallen, hollow bodies litter the ground like the bones of saints.  Childlike, you understand a wish to die here, never to leave this hush.  They’re only trees – your neck bent back as far as it will go; only trees, yet wondering if the giants can hear your thoughts.  Love is joy, with the accompanying idea of an external cause.  Love and desire may be excessive.  When the mind imagines its own weakness, it necessarily sorrows.

Is there anything we have less power over than our own tongues?  These trees have plenty of time, growing wise as the Buddha, in their silence.

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Oprah’s Closet, an essay

O_Magazine_cover

August 14, 2016

Oprah’s Closet, an essay on priorities

It’s Super Soul Sunday on OWN, Oprah’s personal TV network. She sits with an author on a self-help book & discusses how, she, Oprah stands inside her walk-in closet & decides it’s not making her happy anymore.

Assumption number one: we, the viewer, can stand inside our closet.

Assumption number two: we, the viewer, are far enough ahead in the game of “net worth” to be able to discuss whether or not our large walk-in closet makes us “happy.”

Oh, Oprah. And just as I was just about to feel really good about you & your legitimately valuable achievements again! I mean, come on. You name EVERYTHING after yourself, and then justify it by saying it’s inspiring others to reach what you define as their “full potential” or some shit.

What the fucking fuck? Seriously? You just snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Who gives a fuck about whether their closet makes them “happy?” Oprah, when did you get lost?

Priorities. Resources. Allocation. Social goals. Civilization. Society. Government. All people are created equal, and deserve at least a level playing field. A level playing field. Let our society make sure that every child starts the game on a level playing field. What we agree upon as humane. HUMANE treatment for humanity. Imagine that, Oprah!

Forget your closet! Let no child go hungry; unwashed; unloved; uneducated. Let no child languish in the care of a family which cannot care for them. NO child. Not just yours. Not just some theoretical children, in the abstract. Real, live, actual, living children, sitting in their living rooms, none of which should be scary, or dirty, or smelly, or empty. We are all equally entitled to the resources of this particular planet. And any other that anybody reaches.

Ain’t nobody owns the moon. Or the sea. Or the stars. Or the air. Or the water. But they WOULD LIKE TO. Therein lies the problem.

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Tunneling Bivalves (Lithophaga palmerae), a poem

ilustration tunneling bivalves Shipworm Boring

Tunneling Bivalves (Lithophaga palmerae)

I have eaten stone. I have tunneled through the hardest
hearts. For ten years, I was in the hands of a wizard
who, little by little, made me forget everything I knew

before I met him. He fed me stones. I became a small
soft thing, covered with two hinged shells, digging
farther away from the world outside, the world I thought

would hurt me. I shrank smaller each day, tunneled
deeper. I wanted to disappear. While I was enslaved,
I learned to use silence as a weapon. My shells

closed tight, tried to protect my softness, but the wizard
jammed gravel in and devoured me. We used to swim
together, in dark water, his robes hanging over the pool

like a tent. His robes were warm, and sheltered me.
His robes were stifling, and smothered me. I was not
a good apprentice. I failed all the exams, I was held

back to repeat the same lessons over and over.
He wove elaborate spells to keep me in my place.
He was content for me to be his forever.

I was his slave, though I hated him and made him pay
for my service in other ways. I thought the hardness
of his heart was a sign of God’s presence, of God’s wisdom.

I forgot to look for God’s grace, God’s joy. My tears
fell and anointed the floor. I was like a religious pilgrim
who brought palm fronds home, nailed them

to the wall of her room, slept with one eye open,
to see if dry leaves caught fire. I was a staple
for the wizard, I gave him everything I possessed,

willingly, and when he would not give me the knowledge
I sought, I betrayed him. His anger was mighty,
and destroyed much of my beauty. When I first fled

the wizard’s castle, I felt powerless, I felt alone.
The wizard was happy I was gone — I had learned
the lesson he had been trying so hard to illustrate

all those years. The one about peace, about power.
He was my teacher, for that I am grateful.
Injury comes from inside, I know that now.

I try to remember to feel God inside. Still, sometimes
I forget I am not eating stone anymore. Sometimes
the food I prepare for myself still tastes like stone.

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Pretzels & Chocolate, a poem

jim-valvis

PRETZELS & CHOCOLATE

(rented room, cigarettes)

I am eating pretzels
and they are hard
but splinter into salty crumbs

with the merest bite
they only satisfy
part of my tongue

(rented room, cigarettes)

so I pick up the chocolate
greedy for it to melt
against my palate

sucking the firm square
feeling it mold to me
the way I imagine

my body molds to yours

(rented room, cigarettes)

retaining the character of sweetness
to complement the salt
to balance my mouth

I am eating chocolate
thinking of us
together

(rented room, cigarettes)

illustration mockingbird mimus polyglottos

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The Analysand, a short fiction

illustration analysand short fiction

The Analysand, a short fiction

“I’ll take your word for it,” she said.

She remembered long-forgotten moments; instances of innocence, of confidence, of hope. Her analyst wanted more from her than pages in her journal, more than frozen images which may… or may not… have actually happened. Four bundles of smooth, shiny, purple rope lay on the coffee table in his office, four beautifully coiled bundles, bound & tied with intricate, ceremonial knots. His eyes met hers; bright blue lamps of inquisitiveness and Inquisition.

“Where do you get that kind of rope?” she asked.

“I make it,” he said. “I dye it with Tyrian purple and condition it with organic beeswax.”

She kept her face neutral; curious. She’d had enough of fake tourist traps for a dozen lifetimes; boring main highways hadn’t ever led her to anyplace she’d want to stay in for long. And the sun rises even after the darkest night. And the sun sets after the sunniest day. Night has its own charms. Her wounds were on the inside… and his? His… would be healed by helping her heal her own. The rope laid on the table, gleaming & inscrutable. Her favorite violin, a Bergonzi, sat silent & helpless on her lap.

She’d been dead so long; she’d wanted her to speak for herself for so long. Her mother had treated her like anything but a daughter; pupil, instructor, heathen, missionary, ghost, confessor, beggar, heir, therapist, patient. So strike a pose; strike a deal; strike a match. What difference does any of it make: preserving body & soul is not good enough; nurture your body and your soul. Peace arises where all paths meet; crossroads for weary travelers. Fevers can burn you up. Water can heal. She put the violin back in its case.

“Okay,” she said. “It’s worth a try.” She stood up off the couch and took off her clothes.

Dr. Zhu tied her up gently, kissing her as he did. Yes. He started at her ankles, and bound her up like a trussed bird. And then he helped her lie down on his soft purple couch and began his work. Where you find the water of life, is home.

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Things We Never Said, a short story

img058 alcoholics anonymous big blue book

Things We Never Said, a short story

She was beautiful, as all mothers are to their children, but it was far more than that. Total strangers told me how beautiful my mother was. She was particularly fine-boned and delicate. Her skin was the softest I’ve known, her arms and hands the most stubborn, the most lethal.

Mom was an alcoholic, of course, and the most gruesomely stubborn person I’ve ever known. She went past simple denial and created her own alternative universe. Once, some quack psychiatrist she was seeing told her she wasn’t a “true” alcoholic — that she only drank out of boredom. She clung to that unfortunate phrase of absolution, repeating it like a robot in a variety of situations, until the day she died at 44 from alcoholic pancreatitis.

The only way we ever got her into rehab was when we threatened to call the police about obtaining drugs by false pretenses. She’d call the drugstore and tell them it was Dr. So-and-so’s office, would they please fill a prescription for such-and-such, three refills, please.

She got stiff all over when she drank, not like a normal drinker who gets loose. Stiff, and with a duck-legged walk that made my flesh crawl. I can’t tell you how many times I just let her lay there on the floor where she’d stumbled in a drunken stupor. I couldn’t bring myself to touch her.

If only Mom could have been more like Charity Hope Valentine, the taxi dancer in “Sweet Charity” who, after being pinched, pawed at, fondled, ridiculed, robbed, tattooed, thrown from a bridge, trapped in an elevator, and deserted at the altar, rather meekly accepts the cheery and somehow redeeming gift of a single daisy from a group of 60s flower children, pulling herself out of her misery yet again, and living “hopefully” ever after.

My mother and I both said “I love you,” a lot, and to no avail. Neither of us believed in love. We believed only in self-preservation. Trust was unknown. I have never learned the reasons for staying with another. All I can think of, now that I’m married, is what I’m missing, giving up for the other. How short life is, and how unhappy.

I took a developmental psychology course once, while my mother was still alive. The teacher explained that no child ever actually dreams of killing the mother. Infantile rage exists, yes, murderous anger exists, yes, but the true desire to kill can never be resident in the child’s subconscious. “The instinct for preservation is too great,” she said.

When I told her, later and in private, how I’d dreamed that very act, how in my dreams I’d taken the great butcher knife out of the kitchen drawer and stabbed it viciously and repeatedly into my mother’s fine and delicately boned chest, she shook her head skeptically.

“You didn’t really dream that,” she insisted. “You only think you did.” I didn’t argue. I was still too afraid it might happen in reality to insist that it had happened in dreams.

She was never a very good mother. I was never a very good daughter. After she died, I went to confess my guilt over my record as a daughter once, to an Episcopal priest. “I let my mother down,” I told him.

“No, you didn’t,” he insisted. “You were the child. You had the right to go off and live your own life.” I was angry at him, and never went back.

I still feel guilty about the first time I knew I’d hurt her feelings. She made me a bunny rabbit salad – a scoop of cottage cheese for the bunny’s face, cut up vegetables for the bunny’s ears, eyes, nose, and whiskers. It was adorable. But I hated cottage cheese, and salad. I was four years old. “I don’t like cottage cheese,” I told her.

“Just try it,” she said.

“No.” I refused over and over again. Finally, she ran out of the kitchen, to the bathroom, and I knew she was crying. I sat in the kitchen, staring at the rabbit, not eating it. I didn’t follow her, I didn’t apologize, and I sat there until someone, probably my grandmother, covered the plate with a piece of plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. I knew I was never going to eat that bunny rabbit salad.

I mailed the invitations to my own daughter’s birthday party today. She’ll be four in sixteen days. Oddly enough, all I could think of as I wrote out the cards was how much my own mother would have enjoyed seeing my child, her first grandchild. I know exactly what my mother’s face would look like if she were at the party — lovely, tremulous, inevitably a little weepy. I also know half of my pleasure would come from seeing the tenderness in my mother’s wide brown eyes as together we would watch my little Katie blow out all her candles.

 

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Violet Crown, a fable

illustration just me and god

Violet Crown, a fable

It took a long time for the dreams to come back.

(The dreams took a long time to come back.)

Her parrot knew before anyone.

The city of the violet crown.

No one escapes the labyrinth. Not even the dissolute rich.

The oracle sighed, and filled her pen with blue ink:

I know you intimately; I know the way your eyes move,
across the landscape. I realize how we live.  It’s not a sin;
you want the love you got in the beginning.  You want to
change your size, your shape, and your life. Where you
will be drawn, and in what order?  One woman you know
will stop at the color green, another woman dreams
of strangers as she sleeps next to her husband of fifty years.
That man will drink his coffee black, that one will slap
his daughter so hard she feels her cheekbones vibrating
for hours. Remember before you were born; remember
not having to breathe?  Imagine that stillness, that beauty
of the womb.  Let me remind you.  It was shielded
from the world, no sharp edges anywhere.  You and you
and you and you… your taut plum of a heart beat.
One day we will be there again, our blood will soar,
the sparkle sparkle sparkle of life.  The moonlight there
will be as pale and as reflective as new snow.
Your worry-lines will gradually fall away. To forget
your longing, you agonize daily, hourly: the beans
or the meatloaf?  The blue shirt or the yellow?  Toward the sea…
or the mountains?  Marry Paul or James?  As the crow flies,
or the long, winding road? We were together, you and I,
even when you thought no one could see — I watched
the way you lied, cooked the books, phoned for drugs,
delivered Chinese take-out.  You made yourself
important, taller, richer, more attractive.  Time for courage,
time for facts.  You have always been, are, will be loved.

 

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