The days I don’t want to kill myself
are extraordinary. Deep bass. All the people
in the streets waiting for their high fives
and leaping, I mean leaping,
when they see me. I am the sun-filled
god of love. Or at least an optimistic
under-secretary. There should be a word for it.
The days you wake up and do not want
to slit your throat. Money in the bank.
Enough for an iced green tea every weekday
and Saturday and Sunday! It’s like being
in the armpit of a Hammond B3 organ.
Just reeks of gratitude and funk.
The funk of ages. I am not going to ruin
my love’s life today. It’s like the time I said yes
to gray sneakers but then the salesman said
Wait. And there, out of the back room,
like the bakery’s first biscuits: bright-blue kicks.
Iridescent. Like a scarab! Oh, who am I kidding,
it was nothing like a scarab! It was like
bright. blue. forking. sneakers! I did not
want to die that day. Oh, my God.
Why don’t we talk about it? How good it feels.
And if you don’t know then you’re lucky
but also you poor thing. Bring the band out on the stoop.
Let the whole neighborhood hear. Come on, Everybody.
Say it with me nice and slow
no pills no cliff no brains onthe floor
Bring the bass back. no rope no hose not today, Satan.
Every day I wake up with my good fortune
and news of my demise. Don’t keep it from me.
Why don’t we have a name for it?
Bring the bass back. Bring the band out on the stoop.
“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”
“My inability to translate suffering into artistry has made me doubt, among other things, how much I care about music — a strange rabbit hole for a music professor and lifelong musician. For if I loved music enough, shouldn’t music sometimes be enough to comfort me? Or, to frame this as the three-word inquiry at the heart of any difficult relationship: Is love enough?
As much as I would’ve hoped otherwise, music wasn’t. It was just one more thing excised from my daily activities, one more broken luxury in a life falling silent. The more I’ve felt pressured to rekindle my love for music, the more dejected I’ve become in failing to do so.
It’s marvelous, to be sure, when music therapy works, and I have nothing but admiration for artists who play and dance through disability or agony. It’s important to believe in heroes and hear their hopeful songs. It’s no less important, however, to relate and listen to the abundant stories that diverge from the happy overcoming tales that pervade our media. Because inspiration porn — like any porn — isn’t always grounded in reality, instead propping up stratospheric standards of beauty, stamina and narrative intrigue.
Not everyone gets to be a hero. Some people barely manage to hold on. So from time to time, let’s tell certain illness and disability stories as they are — even if they don’t come with the superhuman protagonists or stirring soundtracks we so crave.”
“My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work”
I control & panic. Poke
balloons in my chest,
always popping there,
always my thoughts thump,
thump. I snooze — wake & go
boom. All day, like this I short
my breath. I scroll & scroll.
I see what you wrote — I like.
I heart. My thumb, so tired.
My head bent down, but not
in prayer, heavy from the looking.
I see your face, your phone-lit
faces. I tap your food, two times
for more hearts. I retweet.
I email: yes & yes & yes.
Then I cry & need to say: no-no-no.
Why does it take so long to reply?
I FOMO & shout. I read. I never
enough. New book. New post.
New ping. A new tab, then another.
Papers on the floor, scattered & stacked.
So many journals, unbroken white spines,
waiting. Did you hear that new new?
I start to text back. Ellipsis, then I forget.
I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write.
I truth when I lie. I throw a book
when a poem undoes me. I underline
Clifton: today we are possible. I start
from image. I begin with Phillis Wheatley.
I begin with Phillis Wheatley. I begin
with Phillis Wheatley reaching for coal.
I start with a napkin, receipt, or my hand.
I muscle memory. I stutter the page. I fail.
Hit delete — scratch out one more line. I sonnet,
then break form. I make tea, use two bags.
Rooibos again. I bathe now. Epsom salt.
No books or phone. Just water & the sound
of water filling, glory — be my buoyant body,
bowl of me. Yes, lavender, more bubbles
& bath bomb, of course some candles too.
All alone with Coltrane. My favorite, “Naima,”
for his wife, now for me, inside my own womb.
Again, I child back. I float. I sing. I simple
& humble. Eyes close. I low my voice,
was it a psalm? Don’t know. But I stopped.
“When I was a kid I’d ask my mama to make me ‘toota’: one part mildly steeped orange pekoe tea, 3 parts 2% milk, and lots of sugar. Toota. It was my discovery of the mighty feeling that comes with something hot on the roof of my mouth. Though I’m not sure when I first imagined that this wet heat could will me to the needs of my day.
I keep an endless archive of those who similarly rely on this imagined will. I watch them pass through a place like this: A food scientist meeting his copywriter to expedite his cricket-protein pasta sauce invention, a new mom who hasn’t left the house in 48 hours, two women who meet every week at the same hour to hash out the emotional boulders that don’t seem to budge.
Losing someone, winning something, idle time—coffee is often paired, and it’s cheap. How you take it is as boring as which wrist you drape your watch on. But it’s as relieving as rain when air is muscle-thick. It’s also just something hot on the roof of your mouth.”
“The other night I skipped a party and went out to dinner with a friend instead. We sat at the restaurant and talked for two or three hours, then went on a leisurely walk through the neighborhood. It felt very right. I went home and read poetry and slept well.”
“Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.”
“Everything is Waiting for You”
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and animals die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
"'But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
“I honestly believe that before you crash and burn in a show, you will never truly be a fearless performer,” she said in an interview. “You spend so long trying not to embarrass yourself. Once you have the worst show of your life and survive, you know it’s not that bad. Then, you become this fearless, shameless weirdo version of yourself that turns out to be who you really are.”
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”
― Parker J. Palmer
“Wonder about yourself”
“Provide yourself with shrewdness”
“Alone, for one moment”
“Open the head”
“In a very particular way”
“Light as an egg”
“Like a nightingale with a toothache”
“Moderately, I insist”
“A little bit warm”