BittersweetLying in bed, my thighs heavy against the mattress,
head light on the pillow
I think of you, my last thought always
But sometimes sleep won't come
And heels digging in, body arched with longing
I am reaching for that far away place
Where you are and I am not.
Palms down, spread-hands press,
Sighs are deep and then breath catches
Bittersweet, a word that can only ever apply
To love or chocolate.
A broken bird lies on the highway
Twitching, not yet dead.
We approach at speed directed
By the signs
And there is only time to react with horror
At the sight of suffering,
To know the car will pass clean over-
The body untouched by its wheels
And that really, somebody should
Have the courage to run the wheels right over it.
Cafe on Saturday
Barristo-straight faced, tired, bored,
I am working hard to make you laugh or smile,
With my poor attempts at jokes,
Knowing that you just want to get back
To chatting with the cook.
I see you sleep-walking through your job
And I wonder if are ill
But then I remember-
You are young and today is Saturday.
Cafe on Sunday
Loud girls telling their stories,
Suntans, tight shorts and ponytails,
On the table-keys on lanyards, smart phones and sunglasses
Whipped cream covered mocha smoothies.
Quiet couple doing a crossword together,
The pencil in his hand,
Matching mugs, large lattes, tech fabric
Solitary young man
Top brand laptop
Earnestly working on something important
Eventually drives away in a battered car.
John with his wheeled walker, basket weighted
Cheerfully talks to pretty girls
Who, smiling, laughing, nodding, don’t understand what he says
Except the part about liking them.
Boys and Grandma, arrive with a red wagon,
Order cookies and pop to go
Then return up the hill
Smaller one riding, larger one pulling.
I with my pen and notebook
Watching, listening, writing, glasses half-down nose,
Holding on to these people forever.
Nosy old woman.
Yes, I do drugs, you know
But just the legal kind,
Or else the daily ebb and flow
Would wash away my mind.
The pit so dark and deep where I
Sit slumped in the bottom slime.
High walls slippery, moving, muddy
Prove impossible to climb.
Send me a ladder or at least a rope
Don’t leave me to struggle in vain
Each one of us must cling to hope
And get on our own path again.
My journey’s one you do not know
The path I take is mine.
Each of of us has our way to go
And we find that way in time.
I just take each day as it will come
Expect nothing beyond a new dawn.
I know it’s easier said than done
But it’s how I carry on.
Moving helped to keep me from seeing.
Seeing can be dangerous -a horse needs blinders to keep moving forward,
to keep from bolting in panic and
I would have turned our cart upside down, or is that
right side up?- If I could see.
When galloping turned to trotting turned to plodding I tipped everything over
emptied out the cart and started again, with one less person in it,
I could no longer carry you; I would no longer carry you.
So you sat on the side of the road accusing me and nursed
Your wounds that were my fault.
Hitching another ride you kept on going on your own way
And I kept going on mine, pulling a different cart
Less weight to pull with every step-
Stronger than either of us knew I was
steadily taking a new road.
At four pm Grandparents arrive in a Pontiac K-car,
And a Grandma presents herself, scented with cigarettes and
expertly applied makeup, smart clothes, and black stockings
complete the effect and brittle hugs are awarded generously.
The adults settle in the living room, drinks on the rocks, corn chips in small bowls.
Ice is rattled in her glass when a refill is required, Rye and Seven.
My mother has been baking cakes and pies and cleaning an already spotless house for days in advance.
Stories are told of days long gone, of parties, admirers and dresses
Or of more recent fun, bridge parties, which I imagine are parties
Held on a bridge, perhaps the Lion’s Gate, I think.
Our house already smells of alcohol and tobacco and fills
With cackling laughter.
She is the last to rise on Christmas morning, nine am
gliding into the kitchen- and she knows the rule:
Children don’t open gifts until everyone’s eaten and dressed.
She lingers in her dressing-gown, sipping coffee, breaking off
small pieces of toast, carefully applying dabs of jam.
DogsThe heartbreaking loyalty of dogs
Eager to please
Desirous of your love and
Giving, giving giving-no matter how ill used.
That’s why I am a cat person.
The way of dogs is all too painfully familiar.
In my head
All scales, claws, sharp teeth-
Thoughts that wound,
Scratch and bite
Tear as they fly
On powerful wings.
I walked on eggshells, tiptoed around
You, arranged life so as to keep the
Equilibrium, keep myself safe.
I couldn’t articulate this even to myself
Because although you hurt me
You did not raise a hand and left no marks.
You would have claimed there was no intent
To hurt, and you would have cried, withdrawn
Been made miserable had I told you.
I know, because I did try it. I know that
Any time I tried to find a way to
Say, please, can we sort this out-
Aything that had hurt me became all
About how hurt you were now
And I became the comforter.
When things went wrong it was my fault
Or if there was nobody to blame but yourself
Then you were gloomy, withdrawn
I learned try to keep you from having to
Blame yourself or ever feel flawed
I daily lifted off the dark clouds, carried them if I had to
And if I couldn’t, I held my breath
And waited, and watched for the sun to return,
That precious sun which increasingly came less often.
I petted and praised you but could not give
All that you wanted and I did not know
That it was because I was no longer safe
From criticism, betrayal, lack of trust or loyalty
I was open and exposed in your storm and I clung
To the only rock I knew-our marriage.
In some ways really am to blame-
I accept that for I helped to create you
Co-dependent they call it.
It was how I survived because not
Staying married was unthinkable and
Beyond how I had ever imagined my life.
I could not fail at this, and it WAS my job
To hold it all together and make it work
To take the blame, to be wrong, to be the one who can’t
So that you could always be right
Feel strong and capable and I told myself
He’s a good man, just high maintenance.
That’s what made it difficult, the fact that
You are not entirely bad, in fact probably not
Even mostly bad, and so I made excuses.
I thought, or at least I told myself
And everyone else around me that
You were worth it and I was lucky.
You were controlling but I saw it as caring
And your criticisms I took to be high standards
My self doubt was easily exploitable.
One day in the middle of chaos and difficulty
You told me that you no longer loved me
Which really was quite obvious but
I held on. I said, no, that cannot happen
And I set out to prove that you did actually
Love me and we belonged together.
I managed to convince you just in time for me
To finally realise you were right and
You did not love me and in seeing that
I fell out of love with you suddenly
With a near-audible thump
And I acted on it, shocking everyone, including you.
I was not healed, not cured immediately.
Though I found the strength to leave you
I still took the blame on myself.
I couldn’t admit that you were flawed
And I had made a mistake in choosing you
Or that you had stopped loving me.
The old habit of protecting you,
and thus myself, Remained
But eventually, slowly, I began to tell my truth.
I no longer love you and there was a time
When I was angry but that is gone now
And I can even like you sometimes.
We share a child, a wonderful child
And we share a long history which
I do not regret.
There were good times and I learned much
And I would not be who I am today
Without taking the path I took.
It turned out that I was stronger than you knew
Stronger than even you are, I think
Sometimes strong people make the mistake
Of staying too long, thinking they can fix
What is not their responsibility to fix.
You and I did not work out and we both
Are responsible for that.
I take the lessons learned
and I move forward.
I expect my brain to impress me with its brilliance.
I sit down and say to it, ‘Okay now, write something amazing’
Because I know there are some brilliant thoughts
And deep insights in there somewhere.
I sense them as I slip into sleep.
I expect my body to be perfect and I don’t even
Know what that means really but
I have a vague idea based on models and fitness and
Photoshopped images but it’s more than that.
I expect health and stamina and vigour
And it eludes me.
I read that we should let go of expectations
And just be grateful for what comes.
Don’t do that-you can get hurt that way-really hurt.
We have to figure out what to expect and what not to
We have to figure out who we are and where we are
I expect this to take a lifetime.
Falling in Love
Walking hand in hand at the water's edge
Bare feet, forgetting to watch for barnacles,
The setting sun in our eyes and
We squint in the brightness.
Warm waves tickle gently around our ankles.
Happiness laps softly at our hearts.
We laugh, swing our arms, this is the beginning
Of when we fell in love.
Her Heart Bursts
Tonight she is performing and
The room is a stage.
Smiling, talking, touching people on the arm
This is not fake, rather it is deceptive.
Shyness is not involved; She loves to talk to people and
oh yes she can talk! Talking is one of her greatest talents.
She has smiled at everyone in the room and introduced herself
and tried to learn everyone’s name.
Shaken hands and warmly patted arms
That’s how she does it. She means it. She is sincere
And wants to exchange thoughts and ideas with you all night.
She has been accused of being intense.
Intense with a smile, that’s her, but at home tonight
She will collapse, exhausted by what feels like
Having just run a marathon.
She will spend the next two weeks or more in retreat and
Alone, she rebuilds and renews herself, heart inflated
Until once again she is among people and her heart bursts.
I Lost Myself
I lost myself- how did that happen?
I never intended to lose myself nor
Thought that I ever could.
It was a slow process.
My life became all about giving and pleasing
Doing what was best for others
Concern for others’ ahead of myself
I knew and desired no other way until
I realised I had given myself to
People who did not value me enough
Who misused me, took me for granted
Blamed me for being myself.
How did that happen? I try to answer
That question but really what is more
Important is that I stop being that woman
And look after myself.
Style and beauty experts- stealth attackers, double agents
telling us we are beautiful but have flaws we’d better hide.
Buy this, wear that, it will make a slimmer, polished you.
Polish is for furniture or shoes.
Trash talking my own body-I did that once.
Or twice-okay I did it often.
I bought the idea:
Don’t look slutty, trashy, frumpy,
Too young, too old,
Don’t show those arms, they have flesh!
We are told we must define a waist.
For what is a woman without a waist?
- surely not a woman.
And never wear anything like neon leggings or tee shirts with slogans
Because after the age of thirty
You only ever want to be taken seriously.
You don’t want to have fun
Or be ironic
Or look like you are trying too hard
But do try harder, please, for your own sake.
Be chic like a French woman.
They don’t get fat, you know- only use croissants to decorate the plate.
Baguettes are for carrying, a crusty accessory.
And who wants to eat all of that molested bread?
You can’t eat it-it will ruin your waist.
Ask an expert and you will be reminded that the only important thing is your waist.
Ask Hollywood and you’d better have a booty or boobs or both. Triple B.
Looking like a liberal arts professor with a part-time hobby
Making hand-thrown pottery
Is a look to be avoided by the truly chic- and chic
Is the only look that counts as style.
Be ashamed of yourself you creative woman
Your opinion on what looks good doesn’t matter.
We don’t want to have to look at you dressed like that-
looking like yourself.
I would rather look tousled like I’ve just come from a delightful
Roll in the sack but Oh My Goodness, A woman of a certain age
Doesn’t do THAT! With a baguette or without.
Jazz Night at the Cafe
A syncopated infection invades my body and the symptoms
include persistent twitching.
Toes tap, hips waggle and sway
Doing the vinyl seat boogie.
I am plucked like the strings of the base viol
and I cha-chaka, cha-chaka cha with the drums.
Dedicated to my Women Friends
Be You! Be fierce, be strong
Be bold and loud-laugh and talk
Wear red lipstick and green eyeshadow.
But only if you want to.
Be fat, be thin, be bald or
Wear bows in your hair
Hats on your head, flowers or teacups-
What you look like is NOT who you are, unless
You want it to be.
If it is right for you be quiet.
Crochet blankets, tend the garden
Speak softly and carry a large paddle.
Stay home, go out, dance or sleep.
Be who you are and love who you are-
Embrace your sisters for they are
As you are:
All of these things or none of these things.
I say it apologetically, whisper it, I like literature
Wince and shrug
Someone says she just likes to read stories, you know,
Be entertained. She doesn’t want to have to think.
And I am certain then that I must be pretentious.
Someone else approaches and asks me have I read
(insert name of major literary work here) and I say,
Umm, well no, I have not gotten to that one yet.
Wince and shrug
Clearly I am an imposter. A poseur.
I love literature but I don’t believe in reading something
I am not interested in reading.
No longer a student for marks and grades, I close a book
that does not hold me captive. Ulysses.
Did James Joyce wince and shrug?
I read for fun, they tell me. I like to be entertained.
Who doesn’t? I think. But now I can’t say it, can’t say-
Oh the highbrow stuff entertains me-the smart stuff.
Thinking is fun,
Wince and shrug.
Unspoken thoughts in the other’s mind: What else do you do for fun, scrub toilets?
Of the wisest words the sages tell
It's "Pick one thing and do it well"
That to me is only senseless babble
Because I rather like to dabble.
So yesterday I took a class
On how to build a house with glass.
Then later on I had to learn
Just how to use a butter churn,
Because I've been watching Martha Stewart
And she makes it seem there's nothing to it.
Just make a gourmet feast for ten
And learn to keep Rhode Island hen.
Plant a garden, build a shed.
It's a good thing, Martha said.
Sew a quilt and paint the walls,
Hook carpets for the entry halls.
There's one more thing to do today-
Go out and pick a fresh bouquet.
Arrange it in a hollow melon.
Why do we listen to this felon?
I love you, chubby ankles
I love you, thickened waist.
Shhhh-yes I am lying-but
At least now I am trying
And refuse to be erased.
Every night poetry comes to me
Just as I drift into leaden-limbed sleep.
Beautiful words, perfectly measured-
I repeat to myself trying to hold them.
The forms of them etched on my sleep-drugged brain
Make me smile; I am soothed by their perfection-
Contentedly falling asleep
I believe that come morning
I still will remember.
Written in the book of rules it says You are Woman,
Thus you will sacrifice.
I used to read that book, study it, memorize it.
Rules were posted in my brain like a shopping list
On the fridge with magnets.
Every time it fell off, someone put it back up
And stuck that magnet on.
The Law of Womanhood: Put Everyone Else First.
The fallout for breaking the rule: Guilt.
The worst insult you could inflict on me would be
To call me selfish and I, I have been guilty
Of applying that term to other women.
It must stop.
I have banned that book, burned it
On the flames of a new fire raging inside me
A fire that cleanses and gives birth to a new
woman-bird rising from the ashes.
There is only one rule now, self made and only
Self applied: Judge Not.
A salad is so much work for what you get.
Washing, chopping, shredding, tossing,
Half an hour to make, ten minutes to eat
Hungry again an hour later.
Sensible ShoesI was born understanding that my appearance mattered,
That not everyone could be beautiful and probably I was
Not one of the lucky ones, but that
still, what I wore and how I did my hair
And moved my body mattered.
I was born understanding that there was shame
In being female because most of me
Needs covering or taming, controlling, changing
And although I could grow up to be anything I wanted
I was going to have to look a certain way while doing it.
But how to look? It depends on whom you ask.
How to behave? Well that too depends
And whichever you choose will be wrong by someone’s standards.
It has taken me awhile to figure myself out
But if I am sure of anything, it’s that I prefer sensible shoes.
Spider“I need you,” he said as they stood together in the empty room
Where light filtered through dirty windows and dust
Was thick on the baseboards.
“You brought me sunshine and laughter and rainbows
And I like who I am when I am with you.”
She smiled and waited for him to go on
Because it seemed like he was going to-it ALWAYS does
Wearing his charming smile, the one that she felt in her toes, he said,
“I love you and want you, girl of my dreams.
I always want you beside me.”
She looked into his eyes
Certain that she needed him-needed him
To SAY something else and she
Searched her memory of books and movies
For clues-what should love sound like?
“I love you too,” she said,
hoping and then instantly believing,
that she meant it-when here eyes caught sight of something
Over in the corner, as it skittered away
A spider in the shadows.
The Cat Sleeps
Piles of wrinkled cotton sheet
Folded back upon coverlets
Rumpled and shoved
To the end of the bed
By impatient feet.
This is where the cat sleeps
In her perfect indentation.
Undisturbed and round.
The CornerI walk into the cafe
And stride straight to my favourite corner
My corner-only someone else is there before me
Claimed it for herself.
Momentarily I hesitate and then take
The table right next to hers
A large empty room and two women are
Unspeakingly pressed into the corner.
Eventually, perhaps half an hour later
We share a bond of sisterhood-sitting on this vinyl bench
The sisterhood of the corner-leaning back against the wall
Eventually she speaks to me.
It’s just a comment or two, a friendly
understanding, we will think the same way
She leans toward me conspiratorially
whispers her thoughts as I smile and nod.
Later, when she leaves, she is compelled
to say goodbye to me, her old friend
her corner sister.
I forgot to water the plants.
The cat will remind me if I forget to feed her,
She will remind me if I forget to wake up that day.
The plants are helpless captives in my home,
unable to fight for their rights.
They nearly died.
Nearly died but not quite yet, shrivelled
accusingly, moaning softly in the corner.
I forgot to water the plants because
I didn’t hear their silent screams.
The Real Reason
I am not sexy but he thinks I am
And why would I argue?
I am not conventionally pretty
But he thinks I am beautiful-
I shall not complain.
But the real reason I am in love?
It is because he seems more,
Beyond that, above that,
And I display all my flaws,
Throw them in his face
And say-Look see! Not lovable.
He laughs and says,
A million genius ideas
Profound connections-okay perhaps seven
Wash over me slick like soap
And down the drain
Riding on bubbles.
This one observation left,
My last amusing thought is
Nearly scraped away
By the shaving of my legs.
To Whom It May Concern,
This is a note to say that Shawna has permission.
Too MuchSometimes I have too much body,
thick, pained, exhausted, overflowing
And too much mind churning, grinding, spilling
Where is the off switch?
I only want to be light,
To float perhaps invisible or
I want to disappear.
I am supposed to want visibility
But all that means to me is that
I will have to stand and all I want
is to lie down. Please let me lie down.
I knew bliss once.
There was a lake and summer sun,
An inflated vinyl donut.
So much had not happened yet.
Under the Weight of YouUnder the weight of you
I grit my teeth, hold my breath
Try to smile-no I try to believe
That I like this and I want this.
I am supposed to like this-
Supposed to want you touching me
But there is so much of you,
flesh and hair and bone and breath
And so much asking, wanting, needing
Something I can’t give, but why?
I don’t understand why and you
Can’t understand what is wrong with me.
I am supposed to want this-
This merging and vulnerability and surrender
But there is a wall I can’t knock down
And perhaps I do not want to.
Wedded to The ZeitgeistI cannot stop thinking
And talking and writing
I can't stop the pain
Or the joy that's from living
I sleep and I love,
I breathe and I eat.
It is all of these things
That make me complete.
I can't stop drinking in
All that is life
Making zeitgeist the husband
While I am the wife.
And I cherish and honour
And love every day,
With a promise to be faithful
But never obey.
Why Can’t Bellies Be Sexy?It’s really not fair that I am supposed to put
My extra weight in certain places
Just to please others, and it’s not my fault that
The chocolate pudding doesn’t go to my booty so
Why can’t bellies be sexy?
I finally grew big boobs but booties were
All the rage and sexy means big bouncy cheeks.
I am waiting for the day when upper arms -no elbows
-the day when fat elbows are sexy.
Why not? It’s the fat-elbowed people’s turn.
I can grow a booty eventually, yes
But it comes at the price of a double chin
And the last time I checked those are not
Much admired though mine is a particularly
Why aren’t brains sexy?
Oh, we like to pretend they are
It’s the latest thing to claim-but honestly
Tina Fey is not that hard on the eyes and I don’t
know anyone with the hots for Hilary Clinton.
WordsYour words seemed more powerful than mine.
More accurate, assured and they crowded my head
leaving no room for my own and when your words
are out in the world, who is going to listen to mine?
My words buzz and whine in my ear,
Around my head, mosquitos of thought
Cars ‘round a racetrack-crash and burn,
tires spinning, I lie awake and think of metaphors.
You are Gone
A catalogue of the best, an archive of the worst,
collected and curated -the story of our love......
I remember your gentle blue eyes.
I remember your heart so vast and your arms so long.
I remember when you held me and the way our bed smelled once.
It doesn’t smell like that now you are gone
And the space on the left that once held you now lies empty.
I tried to lie there but I can’t.
I cling to the edge of the opposite side, away from the
Unbearable Knowledge that you are not there.
And I wonder if I need a new bed- A bed that never once held you-
A bed that holds no pain, no loss, no you.
That’s the problem: No bed will ever again hold you and
The urn that holds your ashes has no room for me.
I am afraid that the scent of you is fading,
Fading from the bed and from my memory.
I haven’t washed your clothes and from the corner of the bedroom
Looms the medical equipment-ugly reminder of what you endured.
You are gone
But you and I together,
We go on forever- the story of our love.