Between My Fingers


Goddamn it, I miss my cigarettes.
I miss the light up,
the first inhale…
I miss ‘em like my worst best girl friend,
you know…
the friend
you tell everything to
who cheers you on
in your darkness.
The kind you call when you’re shitfaced
because you lost the part you were born for.
The kind who holds your hair back
while the room spins and you wretch the toilet.

 

The kind who takes your favorite vintage jacket from the ‘70’s
without asking,
the tobacco brown one with fringe on the sleeves,
and then spills red wine or some fucking shit on it,
like she could replace it in a snap
with a cheap crap knock-off from Target.

 

Ya, she’s the cat who leaps up on your newborn’s chest,
lays there quiet for a while, then steals his breath
while you’re making cookies in the kitchen.
The kind who fucks your husband when you’re out of town,
then borrows your brand new panties
before she leaves through the front door in broad daylight.

 

She’s bold and she feels good,
in a familiar kind of way,
if for no other reason
than you’ve known her,
held her there between your fingers and inhaled her,
your whole life.

 

And even though she does all this awful shit to you,
she’ll always be your friend.
Always.
She’ll even make your bed for you,
you know…
so you can lie in it.



If I Am What I Ate


bread_and_wine-_artistic_kjyl

 

If I am what I ate,
I am Spaghettios
and Swanson TV dinners.
I’m grilled cheese on Wonder Bread
and my mother’s Mexican Goulash,
which is neither Mexican
nor goulash.

 

If the voices in my head
belong to my parents,
then it’s they who told me to lay low,
toe the line, follow the rules,
and do unto others, as others
are more important than I.

 

It wasn’t God.
It wasn’t Jesus,
not the Pope nor Billy Graham.
It wasn’t the sacred texts or hymnals,
or the sages who interpreted them
who told me to be someone else.

 

God is God, and He’s made me a lovely dinner.
I dine on the Feast and become myself.

 

With my tongue I taste.
With my eyes I see.
With my ears I hear.
It’s my blood surging.
It’s my heart that sings in the dark.



From The Beginning They Said The End Was Near


the-end-is-near

 

From the beginning they said the end was near,
but I was young and rolled my eyes.
Look at the morning!
It arrives bright in my window every day.
Look at the moonrise over the Variety building; the little planes
making shadows against its stature,
carrying people to and fro upon the air,
to and fro and to each other.

 

The hands on the clock are ticking,
the pages of the calendar turning
like an old time picture book flipping.
On the best days in those pages
paintings and poems and lovers are made.
And on days when there’s fucking,
well then a woman is made
and decisions are made
and babies are made if we’re lucky
because that’s the way the world is made…

 

Everything moves and everything flows
and everything tastes good for the most part
and after so many turns of the page you reach your stride.
Your beautiful, slow-motion, cocksure stride.
Then one day, maybe a Wednesday,
you can’t quite stand up.
You can’t quite wake up.
You can’t quite keep up, not like you used to…
and you wonder where your stride has gone.

 

You see it in the mirror, passing.
Your swagger’s lagging.
Your ass is sagging.
Your eyes won’t focus
and your ears don’t hear.
Your teeth won’t chew
and your head screams at the speed of the world
and you don’t want to slow down
but you have to,
because your feet swell
and your joints ache
and you just need
to lie down.

 

So you order in your soft fish and chips.
You draw the curtains and dine in bed.
You’re snoring by the time the moon begins.
You don’t see the sun rise anymore.
You don’t fly to and fro, or to anyone anymore.
And you sure as hell don’t fuck.

 

From the beginning they said the end was near
but I was young and rolled my eyes.



The Bread Aisle (Get back up.)


Bread

 

I’m in the grocery store,
the bread aisle,
looking for some Ezekiel,
but can’t find any.
I see this other bread that looks
kinda robust,
full of nuts and seeds,
and pick it up.

 

“Good Seed” – that’s the name of it.
Made by Dave’s Killer Bread.
Never heard of it.
I’m looking on the label
trying to find out what’s in it, and
there’s his story.
A four-time loser, it says.
A dead-end drug addict
who turns his life around.

 

Now my eyes are watering and a woman
perusing peanut butter
is staring at me.

 

Whatever.

 

Suffering and humility, he says,
made him an honest man,
doing his best to make things better
One loaf of bread at a time.
One loaf of bread.
One.

 

So, I’m wiping my eyes, blowing my nose,
wondering why I’m blubbering over this loaf.

 

I mean, really.

 

Maybe because he took his second chance
and ran with it.
Maybe because I wanna take my second chance
and run with it.
Maybe because I wish everyone would
take their second chance,
and run with it.

 

Ashes, ashes
We all fall down…
Maybe that’s it.

 

I’m crying over a loaf of bread,
imagining a ring around myself
and this rosy planet-full of nuts and seeds
who make things better
just by getting back up.



In The Moment, When It Mattered Most


IMG_0258

My mom and my daughter, Esther, in June 2012.

 

I wrote this piece in December 2012; two weeks after my mother died. It has taken this long for me to shine it up for public consumption. The heart is ready when the heart is ready…

 

Those of you that know me well know I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother. It was fraught with strife from the start (if what I was told was true) and continued through most of my adult life. Of course I don’t remember much before the age of six, but from that point I had the perception that my mother didn’t like me too well, that I was difficult, that my conception was, for her, an unhappy accident, and I came along just at the wrong time. If not for me, so the folklore goes, my mother would’ve traveled more, and lived her dreams. If not for me, she would’ve gotten her PhD and really made something of her life.

 

If not for me.

 

These kinds of myths, when imparted to a young child whether by word or glance or silence, persist, loom and grow larger as years pass and, at least for me, they became the foundation of a life fraught with a sense of worthlessness, which I came often to experience as paralyzing anxiety. This manifested in many ways: fear of flying, the ocean, taking tests, getting sick, auditioning, stepping on stage, and the ever pervasive “nameless dreads” – the irrational sense that something bad is coming, and coming right soon.

 

It feels like I’ve worked a lifetime at ridding myself of these demons, and for the most part I guess I have. I started seeing therapists when I was 7 years old. I stuttered pretty badly at the time, and my father was wise enough in the late 1960’s to understand this was likely an emotional issue, not one of speech mechanics. So, he took me to the school psychologist, also known as the “speech therapist.” I’m still incredulous that they had such a person on staff at a public elementary school in 1969. The next occasion I had to see a therapist was almost a decade later, around the time my parents divorced; then again in my mid twenties when I just couldn’t shake the panic attacks, cigarettes, cocaine, or bad-boy men-friends; and yet again in my mid thirties as a result of self-inflicted emotional trauma caused by my own infidelity during my first marriage. Worthlessness takes on many forms, and I’ve worn lots of camouflage over the years.

 

In the year 2000, I had the good sense to marry Tim Klassen. Whether it was good sense for him to marry me is something I imagine he’s still pondering 13 years later… But, he’s free to write his own blog and bare his own soul… With Tim came a sense of calm and long sought stability (though it’s WAY more complicated than that) and, 3 years down the road, our greatest treasure: Esther. Now motherhood, as all mothers know, changes everything. Once you have a child of your own, you never see your own mother in quite the same way. And so it was that a light went on when Esther was born. I realized, Good Lord in Heaven, that my own mother is a human being. Who knew? My parents’ prohibitions, once thought equivalent to those of a jailhouse warden, began to seem quite rational and, truth be told, too permissive. Now I understood that my mom and dad had no idea what they were doing. While they appeared all knowing and all powerful, they were just doing what they thought best at the time. And while my father was busy saving the world one soul at a time, I imagine my mother was reading Dr. Spock blindfolded, crouched and shaking in the back of her bedroom closet.

 

Even as I have struggled to maintain a career in the 21st century and struggled to keep some culturally acceptable sense of a “personal identity” separate from my identity as a mother, I have NEVER struggled to love my daughter. That scenario is just not within the realm of possibility. And so it is that I’ve come to rethink the folklore of my childhood. Given my own experience as a mother, it seems likely that loving one’s children kinda goes without saying. So, is it not possible, logical then, that even in my mother’s struggle for identity and her desire to live her own dreams, she also loved me? Maybe even as fiercely as I love Esther? I think so. No. I know so. And I think, again based on my membership in the motherhood club, my own misguided belief that she didn’t love me broke her heart. I remember a few occasions when she tried with great desperation to explain her love for me, but it was all mixed up and awkward, rolled up in her ambivalence about career and marriage. It was covered so thick in Gloria Steinem, pop psychology, and Me-Generation rhetoric it turned my stomach, and I would have none of it. It took another 25 years and having a child of my own to understand the terrifying truth she was trying to express; something I, in my stubborn naïveté, have just barely come to accept: once you have children, you give up your dreams in deference to theirs – at least for a time, but maybe forever. It depends upon your kid, and it’s a risk you take. And I would add another somewhat controversial layer to it: A mother gives up her dreams in deference to her children’s, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

 

Knowledge of this truth has not kept me from pursuit of the illusory Brass Ring in my voice acting career, nor has it kept me from lone excursions to far away lands in pursuit of an ever-elusive peaceful state of mind, of lessons in how to let go of worry for the future, regret for the past and (at the risk of sounding just as entrenched in modern day Me-Generation bullshit rhetoric as my mother did in the early 1970’s) of learning to “be in the moment.” Why else, my friends, would I attempt to surf in Costa Rica with a bunch of 22-year-olds or balance myself in Bakasana (crow pose) at the age of 50? I’m a jokester about my own narcissism rooted in my parents’, but now that I’ve crested the great mountain of life and am staring down its descent, my desire to be in the moment has shifted focus. Lately, what I have wanted is to be fully present, not with myself, not with God even, but with the people I love right here, right now; my friends, my family, and especially my daughter. When I’m with Esther, I want to be with Esther, not focused on the dinner I “should” be making or the audition I should be recording. I want her to know I am right here with her doing homework from 1×1 to 12×12 and every word problem in between. I want to be with her on the swings and climbing the tree, not on the sidelines on my iPhone checking Facebook. It’s an on-going problem of mine, this not being “present,” and I’ve missed out on stuff I don’t want to miss out on anymore.

 

As Providence would have it, I did not miss out on what has turned out to be one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. Two weeks ago, my mother died. Her rather sudden decline over the last few months took us all by surprise, as my siblings and I were just coming to terms with having moved her to a residential care home where she would have round-the-clock oversight – necessary due to the deepening of her dementia. It was not easy for us to get to her, as I live 3 hours away by car and both my siblings live out of state. Nonetheless, we were all able to be with her at some point in her last weeks on this earth. Most of the time she knew who we were and was able to respond in kind when we told her we loved her.

 

After 4 weeks convalescing in hospital from an infection, she had been home only a few days before she was taken to the hospital again. This time she had suffered a few small strokes that sent her into a rapid decline. With the good counsel and care of the hospital social worker, we decided it was time to adhere to my mother’s advanced care directive, stop all heroic measures and bring her under hospice care. I asked the hospice nurse to be frank with me about how long she thought my mom might live and, God bless her, she was. Not months by any stretch. Not to Christmas. Maybe days, maybe a week. That was on a Wednesday. I planned on coming to see her that coming Friday, the 30th of November, and to stay a few days.

 

I drove to San Luis Obispo County and checked into my hotel, the Kon Tiki in Pismo Beach, before heading 10 miles further north to my mom’s. The ocean was roaring to the West and clouds were threatening rain ahead. I drove in the dark to Los Osos and arrived to see her at 6 pm. Ross, her caregiver, took me back to her room. I pulled up a chair next to her, reached for her hand under the sheet and fixed my eyes on her. The air in the room was warm, thick and humid. The only sounds were the rain outside the window and the whoosh of her oxygen machine. The room was peaceful and expectant, womblike almost. She was sleeping, and while her breathing was shorter than usual, it was steady and calm. I didn’t want to wake her, so I kept my eyes fixed on her and said nothing. Her skin, my god, her skin. It was still flawless with nary a wrinkle, even at 82. My mother never went in the sun. She wore the silliest hats and goofiest sunglasses when I was a kid, keeping herself protected all year long from the California sunshine she sought as a young wife and mother in her 20′s, escaping what she perceived as the drudgery of life in the small town Midwest. I remember we’d go to Disneyland in the high heat of August and she’d tell us girls to put on long-sleeved sweaters, so as not to let the sun burn our skin. My sister and I, who would slather ourselves in baby oil in the midday sun every July, thought she was crazy. Ya. Crazy like a porcelain goddess.

 

After sitting with her for about 45 minutes, I looked at my watch and remembered that I hadn’t eaten anything since 10 am. I squeezed her hand just a little and whispered that I was going to get something to eat and would be back in an hour. As I let go, she opened her eyes. I took it as a sign, a signal for me to stay. So I did.

 

I searched the Internet on my phone for hymns of her youth and favorite scripture (there are times to praise the internet, it turns out) and began to focus my vigil. As I read and sang, and as her eyes once again closed, I realize how much of those hymns and pieces of scripture I knew by heart… And in knowing, I was able to keep my eyes focused on my mother. I was looking at … no, seeing… so intently my mother’s skin that when I began to notice a shift in her coloring, I thought my eyes were going wonky. Her skin was becoming translucent and I could see the tiniest, most delicate capillaries on her forehead. Her bone structure was amazing. She glowed. How can that be? How does one glow in such a state? I kept blinking to make sure I was keeping her in focus, and began to realize that she was dying before my eyes. The blood was leaving her face. Her breath became shallow, inhales less frequent. But my god, even as life was leaving her body, her beauty was palpable.

 

I had arrived at 6 pm that Friday. I sang and kept vigil until 8:02 pm when she took her last breath. It was not days, it was not weeks. She’d had only hours left. And I was present for them. Along with the hours spent birthing my child, these were two of the most privileged hours of my life. Within the span of them, I got to encourage my mother to Heaven, while every resentment, everything bitter, every failure between us drifted away. Vanished. Like they never existed. And it was nothing I did. It was the last and most treasured gift my mother gave me. By her willingness to die in my presence, she confirmed that she trusted me, that she loved me, that I was worthy of being present at her birth into eternity.

 

I did not call in the nurse for a good 15 minutes. I sat alone with my mother’s body and took in the last moments of her life. I felt in some odd way that I had witnessed a miracle, and even now I find it hard to articulate. I mean, what is so miraculous about death? It’s pretty pedestrian, really, and inevitable for us all. I didn’t see her spirit hover or ascend or see anything I thought to be supernatural. But I was struck again by how beautiful she was. I wanted very much to share this experience with my siblings who had wished so much to be by her side with me. So, as odd as it sounds, I took a picture of my mother in a last, feeble attempt to capture the moment, to capture the beauty I saw as she left this realm.

 

It wasn’t until the next day that I looked at that picture. And what I saw was as plain as day: my dead mother. A shadow of herself. No life. No translucence. Just a strange emptiness. It was not easy to see, and for a moment I was deflated. But in the next moment I grasped, finally, that what I had been working so hard to experience over the last few years had come to pass. The moment my mother died, I had been fully present. I was in the moment when it mattered most. With her, and nowhere else. And by being in the moment, I saw her.

 

I saw her sweetness.
I saw her innocence.
I saw her vulnerability.
I. Saw. Her.
And she was beautiful.

 

For an experience as emotional as this one was, I shed very few tears over the next few days and had little to say. I was mostly in a daze and out of my body, like I was hovering over the tumultuous Central Coast ocean, yet at peace. I imagined that this was kind of what Mary Magdelene (my patron Saint) must have felt when she saw Jesus in the garden that First Easter Morning. Miracles do that to you, I think. Leave you speechless…

 

And so it is, I have found, that even in death there are gifts to be received. Some would say it was a gift to my mother that I was by her side when she died. Maybe so, but I think I got the greater gift. My childhood folklore was dismantled and, irony of ironies, it was my mother who set me free from its tyranny. I don’t know exactly how that happened, so I’m choosing to call it a miracle, and leave the mystery intact. I have no desire to explain it away, only to embrace it, and hopefully, when the moment comes, offer the gift to Esther.



4 Random Poems on Parenting


IMG_1344

Parenting is a roller-coaster for sure.
It goes too slowly, and it moves too fast.
It’s also the best thing ever.

 

Too Much

 

Today she got the best of me.
Short-tempered,
ill-tempered,
hot-tempered.
All three.

 

There was no adult in charge.
Just a 51-year-old adolescent
at the stove,
at the wheel,
at unlucky door number 3.
Today she told me not that she hated me,
but that I hated her.

 

I willed her to my womb,
I grew her in my body,
I fed her with my breasts,

 

I bathe her,
read to her,
go sleepless when she’s sick.

 

I bandage her wounds,
I sing her to sleep.
I brush out her fucking tangles
every fucking morning.

 

I hold her down.
I hold her up.
I hold her in the dark.

 

God it’s too much.
I simply cannot
in good conscience
recommend parenting
to anyone.

 

 

Attention Deficit

 

Hey Doctor!
Hey Shrink!
Hey Specialist!
Hey Administrator!
Hey Teacher!
Hey California Standardized Box Makers!
Hey After School Square Peg Directors!

 

Hey!
Do I have your attention?
Can you focus on this for a minute?
Can you settle your asses down in your seats?

 

Great!

 

Now take your little tests
And your little evaluations
And your cute little bell curves…
Gather them all up together and put a cute little bow on them.
Then, take your bullshit recommendations
and your bullshit red markers
and your bullshit drugs
that dull my daughter and drown her sparkle
and go fuck yourselves.

 

 

FEVER

 

You’ve had a fever for 3 days, Esther.
And I don’t like it one bit.
Fever scares me.
It scares me cold.
I’ll never show you that it does, though.
I will never let that cat slip.
I will smile every time I take the reading.
I will smile and wink
and give you popsicles
and ice chips
and stroke your forehead
and tell you how lucky you are to sleep in my bed.

 

I will smile when I tell you that you don’t have to go to school
and I will cancel my appointments,
and change all my plans – every last one.

 

To be with you.
To watch you.
To watch your fever.
101.2.
To watch it rise
101.7
and rise again
101.9.
To wait for a sign.
102.1.
To wonder.
To wonder.
To wonder.

 

Why now?
And what did you touch?
How did you get it?
From whom; on what day?
When will it break and what is it, anyway?
Infection?
Viral?
Bacterial?
Why no other symptoms?
Why nothing?
Why nothing?
Why nothing?
But fever.

 

Jessie’s youngest had a fever that wouldn’t go away
and wouldn’t go away
and wouldn’t go away
and they finally found cancer in her blood.
Fever with nothing.
It scares me a lot.

 

So you’ll sleep in my bed and I’ll stroke your forehead.
I’ll bring you ice chips,
and smile.

 

 

Second Story

 

She sleeps in a second story nest
right up close to the glow-in-the-dark stars.
She listens to me read the pictures of a life
lived on the prairie a hundred years ago
and tries to put it together with hers.

 

One more chapter is closed.
One more night has fallen.
One more dream has filled her head.

 

She wishes I would hold her all night,
But I’ve grown too old for her bed.



God Somewhere


NoExplanations

 

I don’t understand people
who refuse the hope
that there’s a God.
I mean
any
kind of God.
It doesn’t have to be of formal conjuring.
Forget all the epistemological arguments.
At the very least there’s got to be a Something that knows more
and is more
and is more able than I.

 

If I thought there really were
no God at all, well…
why wouldn’t I just slit my wrists?
Look at this world
and the institutions
and the people
in it.
Live long enough and you’ll see.
It’s. Fucked. Up.
There is no one
and nothing
to trust
even if you wanted to… even if you should.

 

Friends fail
Lovers fail
Parents fail
Children fail
Teachers fail
Priests fail


Governments fail
Churches fail
Courts fail
Banks fail
Cops fail
Lawyers fail
Dictators fail

 

                                Wives fail
                                Husbands fail
                                Heroes fail
                                Psychiatrists fail

 

Planes fail
Cars fail
Boats fail
Elevators fail
Dogs fail

 

        Cats don’t even fucking try

 

                Lies
            Truth
        Love
    Tears
  Forgiveness

 

        Heroin
                Cigarettes
        Bodies
                Booze
        Xanax


Chocolate
Computers
iPhones
Facebook
Vibrators

 

                            Porn
                            Presidents
                            Protestors
                            Peacemakers
                            Poets

 

They

 

We

 

You

 

I

 

           Fail.

 

So, the only thing I’ve really got going on is this hope,
this hope,
that there is a God somewhere
Who has not
Will not
Cannot
fail.



In The Big Bed, Sleeping.


IMG_0001

 

This is another excerpt from the book of letters I am writing to my daughter…

 

Dear Esther;

 

You are lying next to me in the big bed, sleeping. I am up late, getting stupid stuff done, winding down, and happy that you are next to me. I’m not sure what it is, but I love the sight of your little body in the big bed. You look so cozy, you look so small; you are at peace.

 

We have had some hard days lately, you and I, and perhaps you lying close to me reassures me that we are not yet approaching the end of our long goodbye, that our worries and our struggles and our battles are ephemeral; that we are still inseparable.

 

As parents do, I worry about losing you sometimes, and oh to my dismay there are so many ways of being lost. You are a sensitive girl and so different from your peers. There is an innocence about you that many of your more already-hardened contemporaries will not suffer too much longer. The world doesn’t like innocence. Oh we pretend to like it. We long for it in a wistful kind of way, hoping we might touch once more the sweet, forgotten someone we once were. But really, out in the world, we aspire to sarcasm and quick-witted repartee. We aspire to wisdom, and expertise. We aspire to the answers even before we’ve earned them by our stripes. We fear ignorance and incognizance. We fear being shamed for not knowing, and we fear that shame showing up in our eyes lest someone we want to love appears one day and decides to look deep. We hide behind cunning and detachment, self-sufficiency and cynicism. Oh goodness, the clever ways we hide. But you, my love, are as guileless as an afternoon in early June when school lets out for summer, all bouncy and free. And when a person is as bouncy and as free as you are, it makes the not-free people nervous and uncomfortable in their hard, bound skin. So they start looking to find fault for their discomfort, and they look everywhere but in a mirror. They look in the boardroom and the classroom and the bedroom; at the dinner table and birthday parties and on playgrounds at recess. And when a friendly and disarming girl like you needs help with spelling, and you’re a little behind in math, and you’re the new girl at school, well… you are about as easy a target as they come. And I worry, with all that pixie dust in your eyes, you will believe that little shit Kate who says you’re stupid and no one likes you. And I worry that three years from now you will take the pretty pills she offers you in the bathroom after 3rd period just to prove to her and to yourself that you are likeable and cool, and that you “know better.” Oh, how I worry.

 

I woke up with a start at 1:56 this morning with an awful thought. Esther was not meant for this world… Esther was not meant for this world… Esther was not meant for this world… One day when you have kids of your own, you’ll know how terrifying such a thought is and you will badger God for some explanation. “What does that mean?” you’ll beg. “Does it mean something bad is coming? Is it literal? Figurative? Do You mean in the spiritual sense? What is it? What are you trying to tell me? Answer me please!” And then you’ll realize it is no premonition, it is no sign. It is one more imploring expression of hope from your own heart that you can keep your child safe and well and innocent. And there is no answer except to hold tight while you can, stay close while you can, and keep your arms open.

 

You are lying here next to me in the big bed, sleeping. You look so cozy, you look so small… And for a moment, I am at peace.



The Moss of Emily Dickinson


EmilyDickinson

 

This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
What I really want is a kiss.
What I really want is to collect my two hundred,
buy up the boardwalk,
and flip the fucking board off the table.
What I really want is a get out of jail free card.

 

This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
What I really want is absolution for my most mortal sins.
What I really want is adulation for my brilliance.
What I really want is a pair of eyes to swallow me up
and shake me ‘round the ice ‘til I’m nice and pourable
for the cherry in the glass.

 

This is a poem I want to write, but the poem is fighting me.
It wants my blood.
It wants my flesh.
It wants the lava in my bones,
and threatens to cover my mouth with the moss of Emily Dickinson.
This poem wants me dead
and it’s time I surrender.

 

This is a poem I want to write.
But it’s just a disguise.
This is a poem I’ve written.
And this poem just saved my ass.



Burning Down The House


***

***


 

For a moment
I thought it would be better
to burn the house down
than to pack it up again
just to move a mile away.

 

One good thing about moving is
the more I do it,
the less stuff I hold onto.

 

Soon I’ll be barefoot
with empty hands

 

I’ll be a pearl
and the world
my oyster
at last.

 

 

 

*** From the cover of Shawn Colvin’s “A Few Small Repairs”