Opus

A once marathoner body has widened
waist thick, scalp shiny under retreating
tufts, jaws drooping, a general sack of man.
over time, he left being desirable behind.
fortune let him dodge the far more brutal
measuring reserved for the other sex,
but the swells of their shapes hold or held
at least the power of making, generating.
all he has ever birthed: a wider belly,
grown only more girth, suckled failure.
and now, mid-50s, he lacks substance in
that place most damning for a man to be
thin, in lists of the done: the climbed, the
overcome, the acquired, the hired or held,
compelled or manufactured, especially the
compensated. contemplating what remains
to be created that might justify a journey
that leaves such slim evidence it happened,
he extinguishes the light, and hopes that
sleep will at least leave dreams in his wake.

 

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Good

Heading back to the car she passes the other parent,
morning drop-off acquaintance, who smiles and asks,
“Hello, how are you today?” And in her head, she answers
Same.
Same semi sleepless nights bouncing in and out of wakefulness and dreams
Same morning and evening wriggling matches with small bodies emitting large emotions
Same dishes same laundry same lunch box battles over candy
Same deep chocolate body wider than she’d like surrounded by a crowd semi suburban and thin and white
Same short cut natural hair that some want to treat like Public Domain
Same nearsighted eyes sliding toward bifocals
Same stack of empty pages on a desk mocking her with blinding blankness
Same world burning down same brown folks being buried
Same sitting on the sidelines feeling helpless to affect it because
Same brain chemicals ebbing and flowing on their own schedule
Same ashamed stay-at-home, part-time working self feeling subsidized by a partner’s stress and labor
Same would be rower in the same damp rowboat stuck on the same sandbar buried in the same fog bank
Same staring out the same window at the same faceless backyards.
She sorts through these answers that fill her head,
and her mouth smiles in return and says, “I’m good. And you?”

Disappeared

 

you will forever remember how
desperation first enveloped you
when you saw your image shrink
in another’s eyes, winking out to
invisibility until only smooth
shine of an iris glinted where once
you swore you saw your face look back.
when mirrors turned away as you
approached, surfaces that used to
reflect now showing only fog, smoke.
when you suspect this world knows more
about you than it wants to know, and
finds unbearably embarrassing
another day’s discourse with you,
small talk not minuscule enough for
even a moment’s interaction;
then, at last, while feeling for your
visage in the dark, you discover
the newly disfigured terrain of
a face unrecognizable. how
you come to yearn for amnesia’s
mercy, to render your very
fingertips forgetful and let you
fade slowly into nothingness.

The things we do not talk about

The things we do not talk about
crawl behind our consciousness
taking up residence where they
tell what to see, what not to see,
tell us who to be (or urge us not
to be)

The things we do not talk about
highlight sins in green to flash
before our eyes whenever we
consider closing that distance
between ourselves and any
(loving?) Other

The things we do not talk about
encircle from inside, dividing
those speechless from those who
can’t bear quiet; those immobile,
paralyzed from those terrified by
stillness

The things we do not talk about
kill us over gentle decades and
always with the best intentions
so that eventually we close our
eyes with gratitude and grief for
that closet crowded with all the
unmentioned

Dark and deep

relentless restlessness (dense with intention)
returns to this head swathed in sensation,
disdaining meditation, incapable of placating,
meaning-inebriated, drunk with signification.

daily the monkeys come roaring through
sliced, slanted light spilled between blinds.
shadow erased and sun splayed, I crawl
toward the sea, birds of propriety circle

overhead and dive, claws stretched wide
as my eyes while I beg again the world to
go black. to blink back into darkness,
to sink me again into the only solace,

the only remedy: inky sea of tranquility.
only darkness can hold me. only all
shadowing diurnal death console me.
I am always alone, and regarding

this, the night has never lied to me.
whatever dreams of connection I’ve
concocted, the yawning shadow of
sun-abandoned sky has returned to

remind me: I am unmoored; I am
castaway; I am uncharted, unsought,
unexplored, unclaimed. unnamed.
the bottom of black sea my only home.

help me return to me.

 

Pieces

Pieces

Enclosed in this brown box
they all decline to unlock;
you shake yourself, hear

fragments rattle; last night,
you contemplated non
being; this morning your fingers

fumble with the tumbler that
might (or might not) open the box
turn back the clock, remove the

ticks tocking, breath sticking
lodged in your wind piping
you, a walking “somebody do

something,” perambulating
advertisement for the latest
SSRI; you, Billy Pilgrim’s hello

goodbye, in and out of time.
you, sandpapered surface
raw tender to the touch and

always too much, too much
the patient who climbs atop
the table, requesting “please

open me up” with no takers;
you the broken; you the breaker;
trailing bread crumbs from meals

uneaten; you beaten down but
most of all most of all most of
all you, solitary confinement

minus the obligatory hour’s
exercise in the yard; you
the flexible, you the hard in

all the wrong places; you the
faces, a montage of your roles
run jump splice by jump splice

unrecognized by yourself on
the screen; because none
of you fits together. none

of you fits. none of your
exhausted bits will make
the ultimate cut.

The Defense Rests

In my first lucid moments this morning, I spent some time meditating: breathing in through my nose for five seconds, breathing out through my mouth for ten (a method I learned reading this book by this researcher; why I’m reading it I’ll save for another time). While I breathed, I noticed the thoughts drifting through my brain, and discovered something.

A steady dialogue about whether I’m a worthwhile person continually occupies my mind, a steady, sometimes frantic search for validation of my self worth.

I’ve been aware for a long time that I question myself, that I have unfriendly voices in my head constantly taking me to task for my failings. But over time I’ve taken those voices for granted. I’d become oblivious to how much energy I spend trying to answer them, and I’ve never realized until now how much that dialogue shapes the way I view and interact with the wider world.

Looking at my thoughts, even for a few minutes, it gets hard to separate the ones that don’t involve me judging myself because they are so few. Not black enough, not man enough, not decent enough, not kind enough, not compassionate enough, not disciplined or handsome or sexy enough. Not logical or sane enough, not hardworking enough. Not emotionally controlled enough. Less than less than less than less than. Unswervingly undeserving and unworthy.

I have, in sports terms, spent so much time playing defense that even my offense simply exists to protect myself from attack. And every loss—even the slightest setback—has served to affirm an unworthiness that either drove me to counterattack or, more often (given my depression) sent me spinning into an abyss of shame and self-denigration.

No wonder that I’m so often moody with those closest to me; waiting for the next attack on your legitimacy for being on this planet will put you on edge and keep you on constant alert, which is both exhausting and dispiriting. Add in that, as a brown person in a white-dominated world, questioning of my validity hasn’t just taken place in my head; I haven’t had to manufacture it. It’s the constant background noise of life, if not for me personally then for my history, my culture, and my race.

This also explains the toxic temptation that academia posed for me: a place where I have proven myself (a master’s, doctorate, and decades teaching) but also where the demands to prove yourself (your ideas, research, writing, beliefs, teaching, etc.) never end. Not matter how good I was, I could always proof I wasn’t good enough.

So I have a goal: To withdraw from the competition. I want to stop trying to “win,” and focus instead on my own development, on being my whole true self at that particular moment. Not the “not good enough” doer, doer, doer. Not the superior “adept” rising above others. Just this self, believing in my own completeness, and every action a simple expression of that completeness at that moment. Which means being in that moment. Listening to it. Answering as myself.

This may be what the Taoist Chuang Tzu means when writes about giving up chasing “yes, this” and “no, that.” Maybe this is the “actionless action”: acting but focusing on the truth and quality of the action in the specific moment rather than worrying about the result. Residing at the still center from which all possibilities radiate like the spokes on a wheel, and staying within the scope of reality.

At this point, a lot of this is more than I know. But it’s a beginning.