Sometimes you find what you’re supposed to do by doing what you’re not supposed to do.

In twos, shouldering burdens fifty times our weight, I marched next to you
as the teeming crowd lumped us into boxes, our bright futures
fated as our cardboard crowns perched precariously on our heads –
further evidence that our participation-trophy-childhoods hadn’t lost
its steeled grip on the helm that directed our prescribed paths
while we gulped anti-anxiety pills down with the rest of our choices.

Of all the decisions made to sit here -in row 27, seat C – how many were my own choices?
Hundreds of parents leering, like the oncoming boot to crush the ant, to congratulate us,
to mechanically applaud your first (last?) step on a path
that looks too much like theirs for us to be satisfied with the future
ahead. And based on the number of trembling lips and the listless lost
atmosphere lingering over the graduates, it’s not all in my head.

Tassels swing like the gallows as we twist back-and-forth, our heads
unconsciously refusing to accept this ceremony and wondering if we chose
to play along in the first place. But here we stand – and then sit – and then stand again – in a game already lost.
I wish I could roll the dice again because I keep landing on Boardwalk and you
swallow my pink paper money as if that could guarantee your own future.
There are no shortcuts on that path.

But I say that as if my path
was any different, too innocent to cause heads
to roll. Each generation thinks itself better than the last, but the future
contradicts the intentions of the past. I wonder if my own choices
be as devastating – from the ones who could only afford Mediterranean Avenue, to you
who have invested everything you own to never lose.

But if you play the game like that, I think you’ve already lost.
Truth be told, there is nothing I can do to prevent any backlash, no path
so smooth. I just wish that would’ve been in the parenting manual you
read when I was the size of a grape, an apple, when my powdery bald head
fit in one hand. Did you regret any of your choices
when you contemplated this little future?

What relative term – because here we stand, in that imagined “future,”
in the millisecond before it lingers in the present and tumbles into the past. I lose
you in the crowd. I’m on my own now. And so, I make the first of many choices
and hesitate on the stage, my outstretched hand reaching for the paper to start my path.
Thoughts pound, insistent knocking on the door, in my head
and I turn, eyes scanning the crowd, peering for you.

Because on graduation day, you’re old enough to finally realize
that the only path you care to take
is the one that heads home.

Advertisements

If a woman is not Cleopatra, who owns Egypt?

On March 21, 2009, a sweet old hag of a good girl whispered goodbye to su hijo in the East Los Angeles apartment that echoed as hollow as the heartbeat that stopped right when she wanted it to, regardless of whether or not she knew it was what she wanted.

She wrote a poetry chapbook and published in 2002.  Alane Rollings helped her edit it and so was gifted a signed copy – could anyone give a more personal gift?  (Did not J.K. Rowling have the same idea when she turned a book into a piece of a soul?)

Alane was the second wife of writer Richard Stern – not that anyone outside of academics would know who he was since he basked in the shadows of his fellow friends and writers (he said after all, that he didn’t need to write, only that he wanted to do so). But Richard too died and Alane survived him, although she moved out of the house that reminded her of him.

And she left all her books.  Once the writer was gone, the writing never mean anything to her either.

And so it came, that a poetry chapbook by the name of Good Girl was given to Wilson. Wilson owned an antiquarian bookstore in Chesterton, Indiana.  And like a good girl, it sat quietly on the shelf, gathering dust but holding back the sneeze.

Until one very normal August Saturday morning, when I nodded to the accordion player at the European Market and ducked in the bookshop to avoid the piercing glare of the sun AND and the florist who heard me say that buying bouquets of sunflowers were a waste of money.

And finally, such a chapbook finds a home on my own bookshelf, awaiting the day when I can read it to my baby girl.  Because she needs to know that womanhood is ugly and that some people add mascara and blush to the title of “mother” to disguise the pain that comes with it – the heartbreak that I’m sure that same baby girl will inflict upon me before too much time passes.  Because all decent human beings need to know who Lee McCarthy is.

And just to give you a tease, here’s a stanza from a poem called “Conrad’s Mother”:

A woman who lives alone

will go out at nine o’clock at night

to buy ranch dip for the carrots, cappuccino

truffle chocolates for the office, and yoghurt

even though they’ve taken the h out.  

Make your anger so expensive no one can afford it.

They say that drowning is the worst way to die.

I used to think I was drowning. In “wet anger.”

“Wet anger” is when you barely scurry out of work in time to dive into your car, as the tears turn into steam on the dashboard because you couldn’t take a few seconds to turn on the air conditioning before breaking down.  “Wet anger” is when your husband asks you how your day was and your lip starts quivering before he can even sneak in a kiss.  “Wet anger” is when your co-workers ask you how you are and your shaking hands have to pretend to write that email, which is somehow more important than their question because you don’t want them to know that this job is draining the life out of you.

“Wet anger” is when the emotions pound against your head in the shower and whisper degenerate nothings amidst the steam.  “Wet anger” is when you wonder if your water bill is actually paying for salt water because that’s all you taste on your tongue when silent sobs to God bubble forth.  “Wet anger” is falling against the tub in the fetal position while you utter polite excuses like “I dropped the shampoo bottle” or “It’s nothing, don’t worry!” to your husband who has his ear pressed to the door.

But he does worry.

Because it’s not nothing.

Because even though you haven’t eaten as often or as much as you should, you still weigh a little more than a shampoo bottle.  And the bottle never whimpers on it’s way down.

That’s what drowning feels like.

They say that drowning is the worst way to die because you can’t breathe – no matter how hard you try – and all the pressure pushes against you like someone ramming you into a brick wall with a car and ever so s-l-o-w-l-y stepping on the gas pedal.

But in the end, it’s not so bad.  In the end, when the bubble gum has reached it’s bubble capacity, the translucent membrane shudders and surrenders to the pressure.  Like the sudden relief of an anticipated sneeze.

And that relief – well, that’s “dry anger.”

“Dry anger” is when you crawl out of work, slither into your car, and melt in the convection oven that every car turns into in July.  The keys are in your hand, but it’s too much effort to put them in the ignition and turn on the air conditioning – why not just sit and be miserable in the heat?  Because then at least you have something else to be miserable about.  “Dry anger” is when you husband asks how your day is and tries to kiss you, but you look right past him when you mutter your answer and you forget to kiss him back.  And maybe, you even forget to ask the same question back – but also you forgot to make dinner or wash the sheets or pay the electric bill, so you can just add it to the list of things that probably won’t happen.  “Dry anger” is the crack in your voice when you respond to your coworker that you don’t acknowledge and they try to ignore.

“Dry anger” is as bitter as the grounds in the bottom of the coffee mug that you’ve tried to sip for days, but keep putting in the microwave because it seems to never end – kinda like your life.  “Dry anger” is when you lay down in your unwashed sheets for 8 hours with your eyes closed, but when you open them, you feel even more tired than before. Like you haven’t slept at all, except apparently you did because of the sleep encrusted on your lashes.  “Dry anger” is when your husband tries to coax you into the shower and you can’t remember the last time you took one.

But don’t worry.  At least you’re not drowning anymore.

 

Cupcakes are muffins that believe in miracles.

“On Saturday, we’re going to walk downtown.

This Saturday, we’re going to get ice cream.

By Saturday, I’ll have done the math.

I’m so nervous that I’ll have to talk a walk before our walk – a pre-walk, if you will – and maybe settle the butterflies in my stomach with a different flavor of ice cream (cookie dough is my go-to but mint chocolate chip is my anti-anxiety self-medication) and maybe then, I’ll be able to process the math of it all.

After all, I’ve only ended up in a relationship with 18.4% of the guys I’ve gone on a date with – although that number might be lower if you distinguish between a “casual date” and “official date”.

But if you exclude relationships less than 4 months in length, it’s 12.7%.  1/3 of a year doesn’t count, does it?

It gets sketchy if you also exclude long-distance relationships – it’s 6%. I’m not bitter or discontent about it, but I am just trying to be realistic.  I mean, that’s what I do as a data analyst. I analyze the data.

Looking at my stats, it probably won’t go anywhere except downtown and back again. Nevertheless, it just takes 1 person to make the stats entirely irrelevant – another annoying truth of the fragile fickleness of data analysis.

And if these are my thoughts over a chocolate cappuccino crunch muffin, I wonder what they’ll be over ice cream?

*This was adapted from an email from a sweet friend of mine who does have these plans for Saturday and who actually is a data analyst.  I’ve tweaked it for humor’s sake – although her thoughts brought me such joy when I read the original too.

No one ever told me that emptiness weighs the most.

Over 99% of this universe is dark matter.

I’ve heard it said that one can only know happiness after they’ve known sadness.

I’m sitting underneath a blanket that weighs 25 pounds because I’ve also heard it said that these types of blankets can help with depression since it feels like a hug – and hugs release oxytocin.

I don’t know the side-effects of an overdose on this kind of oxy, but I think I could use it right about now. And so could most of my friends. And also the sky, based on the number of days in a row that it has thrown it’s thunderstorm tantrums.

I just started a new government-regulated job and they are teaching me to write the letters “MT” on empty vials that will be cleaned and recycled.

I’ve found it incredibly ironic. And useful.

Absentmindedly, I’ve been scribbling those letters on everything: the spaghetti sauce spattering from my lasagna, the soap suds in the shower, the lipstick smeared across my lips that echo those same letters.

I wonder – with everything that has happened – why I feel this way. I shouldn’t. I should be full, filled to the brim with exuberance, cupping handfuls of excitement for the future, bubbling over with dreams and opportunities and choices. And maybe late at night, if I scoured the corners of my heart and peeked under the dust that’s starting to settle back down after the whirlwind of the past few months, I still might be able to trace remnants of those things.

But I always clock in at 8:00am with the rest of my coworkers and I grab my pen.

MT.
Emtee.
Empty.