As an individual raised Catholic that does not subscribe to any particular religious group as an adult, I am choosing to look and reflect on Easter today from the perspective of writing. I stated in my reflection “On Why Poetry,” that I mainly consider myself a ‘storyteller,’ and that poetry is a form of that. It’s also this constant relationship in my life. My family is Catholic and views Easter as a very sacred holiday, and I, in no way mean to demean that. As an individual who has spent many Easter Sundays away from any sort of family, it’s been something that has varied from an opportunity to get together with other friends, to a holiday spent alone like it’s another day, to the few Easter’s I have been home and experienced the more religious/familial celebration individuals associate with the holiday. Today though, I want to focus on writing and share a story I thought was appropriate for today in several ways. Easter in the Roman Catholic tradition is about re-birth. It is about re-experiencing a rebirth of one’s faith. After spending well over a year dealing with the fact my mother was diagnosed with cancer and watching her go through a bone marrow transplant, during which time, I decided, I think now, to write a project focused on how an individual experiences grief. The writing project, in many ways, was a part of the world I built during that time that was all structured around a false concept of ‘being in control.’ I could write about the grief. I could spend all day working at a county mental health center. I could come home and spend my evenings and weekends watching my mom endure hell. I could come home (as I was staying with my dad during this time) and be the empathic son, who had the right things to say. Even with a disabled leg, I forced myself to run again because, as someone who struggles with an eating disorder in remission, the total utter loss of control in my life emotionally, required me to find areas I could control and one of those areas is always my weight or my body. I actually remember being on those runs, which were utterly painful at times, and thinking, “This is you literally running from the mess inside you that you are blocking. After my mother’s return home from her bone marrow transplant, I took a job in CA. I moved across the country, again trying as hard as I could to convince myself that a new life was what I needed. I was so afraid of losing my mother and knew if it happened, I would not only be suffocated by the loss; I would have been standing in a city, working a job, that was all based around being near family to help caretake (which originally started with them care taking for me after my leg/foot). Suddenly, four years of my life had passed. I had endured some of the deepest depression I’ve ever gone through. Between my recovery, my grandpa falling ill and passing, and my mom falling ill, those four years of my thirties were spent literally in hospitals. When I was not the patient for my leg. I was the caretaker for family members, and when I was not there I was phoning in extreme hours at the county mental health facility. My life was taking care of others externally to survive, while internally I was dying inside. I lost so many friends. The ones that remained I shut out due to being so emotionally burned out on the rare day off. I convinced myself California would be a ‘new start.’ I believed I’d move there and start over, form a social group, and provide myself with the supports I would need for the inevitable day when I would wake up to realize, I had met the inevitable fate I saw coming for me, which was I was going to essentially be ‘an orphan,’ in this world. The nine months in CA, proved it is very hard to do this when you’re a divorced man in your mid to late thirties and are moving to somewhere you know nobody. Even more challenging was the fact that I wanted to lean on my parents, but I was trying desperately not to. Every time I picked up that phone, I was reminded ‘this is not always going to be an option.’ I also was missing critical parts of my mom’s recovery. I was across the country, friendless, and not truly orphaned. I never unpacked. I spent nine months sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I lived in my head, which is such a dark place to live in twenty-four seven. I was given a very ‘undefined’ manager-like position at a marine/naval clinic so I couldn’t even hide behind care taking. To say I broke, would be an understatement. I let my joy be taken from me. All the facades, the physods, I worked so hard to build, were demolished. After nine months, I made the decision to return to my surrogate home, Milwaukee, WI. I would be close enough to my parents and still have my own life, friend, and purpose. I had completed my book on grief. It was exhausting because it was a part of all the avoidance I worked so hard to protect. It was also the first time in my life, where I only wrote about one subject. My normal writing process has always been to write about whatever comes. I spent the first few days back in WI with a friend. This friend and I have always shared a deep love of writing and poetry. She also shares the same writing mentor I had in college. We had a lot of discussions about writing and I shared with her I was not sure it was in me anymore. She shared with me a story I never heard. When I left undergraduate school, I had applied to go to get my Doctorate in Creative Writing. The mentor we both loved had worked so hard with me to get my portfolio just right and was so excited about me pursuing a career in writing. I submitted everything and scholarships came from great schools. I knew I was going to defer them for a year and do one year of national service. I was raised by my parents to always be engaged in volunteering, and I felt like I spent four years doing something that was ‘all me,’ and I wanted a year to just give back. I joined the National Civilian Community Corps and was relocated to CA to serve the Western Region. I deferred my writing scholarships for a year. I remember getting a copy of our mentor’s latest book of poetry signed by her to me. My friend had gone to her reading and had her sign the book for me. The book had a short note to ‘enjoy California,’ which I thought was sweet. As I told my friend about how I was uncertain about writing anymore, she told me when she went to get the autograph at the reading, our mentor really wrestled what to inscribe in the book. My friend states she made some comments about her disappointment I wasn’t currently writing and added something about me being a ‘lost little petunia in CA.’ The fact is I never stopped writing during that time; however, one year of national service led to to two, then to love, and a third year. By this time, my scholarships were gone. I was still writing, but I felt that writing did not have the power to ‘change people,’ the way I felt I needed to. The next year I was in Boston to become a social worker/therapist. As I heard this story from my friend, I guess I felt like I had let our mentor down; however, I realized I had let myself down. By now, I knew, clearly, that writing had a power to heal (me at least) more than any therapy I ever did. I knew I needed to try to return to writing. I had moved into a house way out in the country. I determined since I no longer had to get up for crazy, long commutes to work, I would get up and write. I would write about whatever came to me. I still do this. The next morning, I got up and my friend had to go to work. I was still waiting to move into my house, so while she was at work, I spent the day writing. At first, I admit I wasn’t sure I could. I pulled up a poem I wrote years ago and edited it. Slowly, like the true friend writing has consistently been to me, the words showed up. I remember she came home from work that day and I was so excited. “I wrote all day!” I told her. Graciously, as she always is in this area, she got so excited and wanted to hear the poems. The first poem I read was this old, edited poem I had around and never did anything with. It was about growing up. I always felt it was too autobiographical and was more a joke than anything, but she loved it. The second was a poem about this relationship in CA. I had met someone and they kept wanting to meet. Due to being so uncertain and fragile, I kept pushing away. The last night I was there, we agreed to meet. We had a great time and it was definitely a missed connection. She loved that one also. I felt like a part of me had been resurrected. There were still many parts to go, but writing returned. I promised myself never to stifle my writing again. I would let come what wanted to come, and I would love it, be thankful for it, even if it was garbage. It was not about mastering a topic or trying to master myself through writing about a topic, it was simply something that brought me great joy. I vowed never to let anything steal that joy away. There were/are many things that are going to be taken from me in my life and something like the joy writing brings to me is something I refuse to negotiate. I guess this long diatribe under the posting “Easter,” is because it was really a moment in my life where I was risen, where there was complete joy, and along with it came faith. The faith in the writing process and the joy it brings to my life, a joy I refuse to surrender. So here are those two poems. The first is the older one about growing up and the second is the poem about feeling too delicate to let something into your life. – L
Big Jenny had breasts. Little Jenny didn’t. The said,
“Little Jenny washed her hair with crest.”
Her brother, Marty, ‘did dirty things in the dark.” Michelle said.
Michelle knew all: about the old sanitarium, the cults that lurked there,
Always making me want to go. Instead, I had to be home
‘Before the streetlights came on.” Awake at night,
I pictured sacrificial burnings, blood thirsty humans,
Rubber rooms, where people were bounced off walls.
When it rained, I looked at the little white house with the blue roof
With the dying garden, where a ‘sick lady,’ lived...
My path to Smith Street. Baseballs flew,
Rubber balls bounced. Alicia and I would meet at our secret spot,
Where she’d demand I meet her stating “I sneaked us a wine cooler,” or
Force me to kiss some girl before I even knew mouths could do such things.
In her attic room she’d put on her pink Jem wig
scream, I went to a party last Saturday night.
I didn’t get laid. I got in a fight. U-huh, it ain’t no big thing.
There were no big things, no big houses,
No big pools. Just Kelly’s small round above ground pool
Bought at Wal-Mart, where Little Jenny was not allowed
After she and Alicia traded and then traded in best friend necklaces.
Michelle and Lonny traded other things in the basement.
They’d tell me the words to what they’d done,
Leading me to know blow jobs and hand jobs before grade one.
They did it all behind the bar in Michelle's basement
With the Miller sign, some race car driving decor, and shag rug.
Where John and I played bar, drinking Kool-Aid, smoking cigars,
Talking like Congressmen courtesy of Michelle and Lonny’s lessons.
Upstairs their mom played Tetris in her sports bra all day,
Drinking Pepsi, swearing at a bunch of blocks she was trying to arrange.
Between rounds, she would sit and chat with me,
While John silently slept on the couch,
instead of his race car bed, I wanted to drive right through the wall
Into my own bedroom. Somewhere Lonny and Michelle
Made out goodnight. Alicia’s dad smoked his joint,
While Alicia stole his liquor
To spike the punch at our next elementary school party.
Inside, John’s mom told me about her fears:
Her husband’s stroke, her worries for her children’s future,
How she just could not figure out how to beat Tetris,
And I understood it all more than I ever understood
The importance of hitting a ball.
To a Faberge’ egg hands feel like a guillotine.
I know this to be true. I am that egg right now.
I want your touch but know I am so fragile
Even the most delicate touch could be destruction.
Still, a familiar giddiness wanders about inside me.
My pluperfect lover’s ghost has an intense scent,
Think lilac trees in the spring, think
The smell of a passed rain shower on the pavement.
I have been dreaming of you the way Bronte dreamed of moors,
The way the sick dream of sleep, the way Michelangelo
Dreamt the perfect male form. Somehow
The bellows of my camera have opened,
And I can’t stop capturing this moment we haven’t had yet.
I am threaded in a world that doesn’t know it’s real yet.
I wander the streets too frequently tracking a plethora of excitements.
I accuse myself of stealing the birthed relationship
Between us, I have created. I contemplate the criminality
Inside me and acknowledge a strange lack of remorse
For everything except not allowing you to enter this joy
I have imagined between us. For a moment,
I conjured the idea that I birthed this lust between us as a real character
And wonder if I birthed it, might I also be mourning it?
Again, no moral concern. I hate reality
As it takes me away from the story of us I am breathlessly writing.
My mind is a muscle of discontent. It wants to feed on nothing but you.
I am merciless to you, this language that has no words,
This place where the mind just genuflects to instinct.
Your hands where I allow myself to lay like a Fabroge’ egg,
That cries out like Jesus on the cross,
“My father, My father why have you forsaken me?”
And in the same breath moans like a teenager
Who has touched himself beyond the point
Where it is impossible to feel anything but the spastic joy of
The new features of your given body.