18

a sudden reprieve
wellness and shiny possibility
a new start

sober and healing in some small way
released from the VA hospital
blackbird flies
he zooms to me
old trans am
Steve Miller cassette
birthday wishes
sweet sixteen

case of beer
driving under the influence
driving without a license
assaulting an officer
jail then
ten long minutes from my home

I don't visit

I could not forgive
I would never hope again
I was gifted a poetic failure
happy birthday
a movie moment waiting for him to arrive
a cinematic phone call
accepting charges I heard
as he cried his apologies into the surprise of unsurprised ears
as he blamed the cops 
and the beer 
and the car

I'd never seen such tragedy up close before

It is grittier and more potent than the cinema would have you believe
in the movies there's an easy pressure as our heroine is consumed
a navigable slope
sliding flawlessly into the final heartbreak

on this day there were teeth
I heard the tearing
but then darkness and it was done

17

gone rogue
ill
swollen
yellowed
dying
disappeared
abandoned

dirty hospitals in strange towns
letters trickling from the tap
a keg of your need
your want
fingerprinted 
the dirty hands of bureaucracy

blue and white plastic rosaries
paint by number ducks
red sobriety tokens
again
again
again
the 24 hour chip 
dozens of them

'it will kill me' you wrote
and yet you drank

and sometimes I felt a hollow pain
and sometimes I felt a heaviness 
a pull in my guts
mostly 
I just didn't want to have a sick father or 
a sad father or 
a drunk father or 
a missing father

I wanted a boyfriend and a car
I longed for easy A's and less chores
I burned for 'adventure in the great wide somewhere'

I didn't want plastic rosaries
or ducks
or chips
or complexity

Bitterly, I didn't want you

16

what does it mean to walk through a memory?
is it destroyed somehow?
modified?
changed in the remembering?

fresh footprints casting ripples of 'different'
and then the memory is the memory of the remembering?

and if I do this a million times
if I walk these paths until my legs ache their surrender
and my heart breaks its final 'fuckoff'
will it all simply become a smudge 
to be cleaned from my glasses?

I have to believe that this is worth something.
that I am not just flogging myself 
and my mother 
and everyone who loves me
with disappointment and sadness.
that this isn't just torture porn
but actually growth and self love and self exploration and ...

honest and real and relate-able and not bullshit.

god it must be easy to be dead.
to leave so much in your wake you never have to answer for.
to bid your child a 'wish you the best' 
and fuckoff to your weaknesses and illnesses and uselessnesses ...
I'm so tired of the failure

15

there is a quiet buzz in the grass
a cricket maybe
something humming summer
and freedom and cutoffs and warm skin 
and laughing into the face of adulthood 
because it doesn't have me yet

here I am
warm sun on my hair
tears on my neck and heaviness pulling at me
trying to pull comfort out of me
to extract support and love through my pores 
grasping
clutching

his sorrow consumes 
a ring of fire
destructive
pitiful
and I stand unmoved
untouched
unscorched

his mother is dead
my grandmother is dead

my chill keeps me safe from his sorrow
and divorced from my own

14

tootling delicate sweetness
Dolly Parton eight track 
hissing 'Coat of Many Colors'
generous hope and courage
crushing faith and poverty

country people smokin' their rural
simply beautiful 
proudly unpretentious
cruelly racist
viciously ignorant
swaggering toughness slurred into the afternoon air

'how you like those big black lips on you?'
these aren't my people

'how do you keep the grease off your clothes?'
this isn't my family

'I never thought I'd see the day, my daughter dating a nigger.'
you haven't seen ANY days

pinned by shame I am silent
shame that I am powerless
shame that I am weak

I hold only a small complicated sense of pride 
that I didn't correct him
that in his drunkenness he'd fabricated his worst nightmare
I let him rage
I let him show himself

I didn't tell him that my boyfriend was white

13

 

a contract rummy hand of disappointments
too many to hold
so many cards

are there beautiful moments I am missing?
is there love and delight I am forgetting?
was this really so angsty?
so frustrating?
so damaging?

I fish through the past 
find memories I'd forgotten
file them into my hand
sorting and counting
negotiating what to play

and while I will hurt
and I will cry
and I will wonder at the absurd density of the failure
I will also win
with so many cards - how could I not, right?

and then a change
a slow rise
an icy cold that turns its back
today I play with fury
teeth tearing at the rules
bloodied fingers smearing the success
disturbing the table
dismantling the game

who wants to win like this? 
weak assed happy spin on bullshit and disregard
I'll burn the fucking house down

 

12

I straddled the decision
one shoe untied
dirt under my nails

new dad vs. old dad

old dad who couldn't use a telephone
new dad whom I despised
old dad who told me I would be amazing
new dad who might actually see it happen

they told me 'you'll kill him if you agree'
they told me 'might as well start digging his grave'

I tripped on my laces
falling into the failure of the known
the skinned knees of the absent
he hugged me his happy tears
nauseous 
I felt loved

and I've been there over and over again
groundhog day-ing through decades of weaker men
who are grateful when I spare them pain
whose gratitude feels like love
it is familiar
it is the way of things

someday I will tie my laces
and let them hurt

11

curled into a hot ball of frustration
tiny eyes flashing
'do not call'

mom nodded silently
seeing something ferocious in me
seeing a tragic need I couldn't voice

i imagine reluctance
the habitual second guessing of parenthood
i imagine mysterious understanding
the sweet drip and roll of instinct

and she listened
and she didn't call
and she didn't arrange
and she didn't remind

and without her prompting
he didn't parent

fluttering rejection
a pain like hunger
pain like a begging

mom watched silently
seeing something breaking in me
seeing an understanding I couldn't voice

i imagine his fear
a slow churn of self-loathing and disappointment
i imagine his mysterious self-destruction
the bitter reasoning that I might be better of without him

and I listen
and he doesn't call
and he doesn't arrange
and he doesn't remember

and without her prompting
he didn't care

10

it goes on
as stories do
as lives do

that moment slopped itself heavily onto the page

but it goes on
the child
the man
the entwining of love and intimacy and self loathing
the change

no more the wonder 
no more the golden enchantment 
no more moments flying high on his shoulders

now is the unraveling
act two

I pause and breathe

a small presence behind my right leg watches
she sees me move forward

checking her footing she takes a step

09

There are moments that slip, 
where cogs turn and Drosselmeyer appears and the music fades ...
and the scene changes 
and the slow quality of the light changes 
and it's all new
and it's all lost

He held me close 
hand against my belly 
pressing hard
our legs intertwined

"I used to hold your mom like this."
...
...
...
and I was trapped by his hand
and I was trapped by his sadness
and I was trapped by his hurt
and I was trapped knowing...
and I would never be her
and I would never be good enough
and I would never escape

and cogs clicked and whirred
and he was changed
and I was changed

and in the silence and the time the change grew long and thin
enveloping me quietly
shaping itself to my body
that wanted to be the one a man wanted when he held me
and never could be
never would be

In my mind I imagine myself now 
in that room 
looking down at that sad man 
clutching his little girl
crying for his lost wife

my eyes are glued to HER
staring at the wall across the room
quiet tears
confusion
wanting to be loved like that
and not like that
not like that at all

in my mind I tell her to get up

she says 
"he's sad"
I say
"so are you"
she doesn't know that matters until I say it
she doesn't know she can get up until I help her
she doesn't know that she's more important than him
she's my love
she's my heart
she's who I save while writing this poem

and in saving her I am a bit more whole
and in saving her, I turn that gear that changes everything
I AM that wild thing
I will take her with me now as I go

my little Heather