Tag Archives: pain

The Experience of Exclusion: Incorporeal Embodiment

I am a ghost, but have not died
I walk among the living unseen
Apart from the occasional, startled stare
Everyone else looks quickly away

I am a ghost, but have not died
I speak, though I’ve rarely been allowed a voice
It is easier to dismiss some body different from yours
More comfortable to cut me out of conversation than to answer me

I am a ghost, but have not died
My presence alone has sometimes invoked fear
In the mirror of my sightless eyes, you see your vulnerability reflected
And the truth about mortality, long rejected, haunts you

I am a ghost who has not died
The undead vampire taking resources from the able and the strong
A zombie who cannot belong, with whom you need not empathize
I shoulder shadows, bear the burdens outcast from the light

I am a ghost, though I have yet to die
Invisible to most, but not to some
My heartbeat the same in everyone
I long, I love, I ache, I cry

I am a ghost, a human born to die
And in that we aren’t much different, you and I

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In Memory of Carmen Santaella

Why had she come to this aching,
Keening world
The many crying
For the freedom to feel

She tried to share a brilliance
A song all her own
Lit up the dark sleeping world
For a moment burned clear

It seems so limited now
Her life’s past, unfurled
Why this flesh and bone
To segment out a single thread

Around her, familiar people
Wander, their faces haunted
By the souls shining within them
Forbidden to fully live

Hearts yearning to break open
Stay firmly shut and sealed
Hardened in the resin
Defenses of sorrow

Tonight, once again,
It is all too much to take in
She shares the world beyond the pain
And the high rise beckons

She stands for a moment, the shape of a star
vibrant with living the wisdom of the dead
Longing sends her leaping
Stills her breathing

A sigh slips silently
From among the broken bones
No light in the eyes
When the body is found

But over the hushed hill
A fresh laid mound
With the wind gone still
A song briefly lingers

Then beyond the blue-green earth
AS dense as stone
Woven again
Into her quiet conscious light

Caught free falling
By the ones always waiting
She soars on and on
No longer alone

Don’t Try This At Home, Kids

How often must you fail before it stops hurting? That was the question in my mind this morning. It’s not that I am exactly failing. I’m just not succeeding, at all.

I’ve heard a lot of interesting and many helpful bits of advice about becoming conscious, and the flow of this year in particular. What has stayed with me is an idea that seems to describe life, whatever your belief system.

We’ start out in life floating down a river in boats of different shapes and sizes. At some point however we lose the boat, or it breaks apart on rocks, or it gets hijacked or stolen or reappropriated. After this, we make the rest of our way submerged in the river itself, which means everything is harsher, brighter, colder, more immediate, more beautiful, more wild, more painful, more harrowing, more directly interactive. (To be fair, if this were not a metaphor, we’d probably also die from hypothermia at this point, but I digress.)

For all its simplicity, I feel this metaphor is quite apt. For instance, I know many people including myself who are going along in living, and then something happens to terrify us out of our skin and we’re flailing in the water. If you think holding onto the shore gives you safety, think twice. Without a boat, it’s your hands grasping at the rocks along the bank for dear life. Meanwhile the churning water surges past you, dragging you away, leaving your hands wounded and bloody stains on the rock where they were a moment before. Trust me, this only needs to happen once before you realize it’s a terrible strategy.

So we try letting go and floating. And this is by far the more sensible thing to do … until we hear that we’re approaching a waterfall, and begin questioning our sanity. (I’m going to do what?) It’s not as though we aren’t used to white water rapids and waterfalls. It’s just that with them, there are only two outcomes: somewhat miraculous gliding through unscathed, or disaster.

Finishing a dissertation is like hearing that roar of waterfall up ahead. I am questioning my sanity—well to be honest I’ve been questioning that for a while. I have also heard lately the saying that if we just let the water carry us over the edge and not struggle with it, in other words pay attention to the way things in life are going and adjust ourselves accordingly, this will prevent tumbling headlong into raging currents from getting disastrous. I, for one, am not convinced.

I am paying attention to what’s going on with the people in my life who have some control over when I graduate. If I took their actions as a sign and went with the flow, so to speak, I’d slow down. In the past week, three people, an auspicious number, have told me in different ways that my plan for defending this summer is unrealistic. If I believe them, I will give up before even starting. If I don’t believe them, I’ll just be bulldozing ahead in a way that frankly feels a bit obtuse. Sure, I’m good at being recalcitrant, but that hasn’t ever won me a popularity contest in social graces. So I usually refrain.

So this morning I woke up thinking about entrepreneurs who say they are successful because they failed first, more times than they can count. It baffles me. How on earth do they do this without feeling terrible about themselves, being ashamed, giving up and attempting an easier venture instead, shedding tears, grieving, or making fools of themselves? (Actually, crying is probably acceptable. Literally or figuratively falling flat on your face? Probably not.)

I think about social movements, people who lose their lives to take a cause forward and never live to see its conclusion. Have they failed retrospectively if the movement disintegrates? Or the people who have always wanted children and try, but can’t: have they failed? I mean, they did try and did not succeed, and that’s one definition of failure. Does a person fail when their body has genuine physical limits they can’t transcend? Is it just their body that has failed them?

When is failure not personal? When is it both a genuine falling short and yet not a loss? When does it defeat a person? When is it transformative? How many attempts at trying are needed before it’s all right to walk away? How many failures does a person have to endure before it’s okay to stop beating herself up about it? Would failure be impossible in a world where judgment does not exist, and if so, are there good reasons for us in this judgmental world to abandon the concept in favor of another one? Is it ever possible to fail, spectacularly, and still be worth something, and still be whole, and still be enough?

These are my questions, and I struggle with the answers. Right now, I have little wisdom to impart. I am only beginning to experience what will hopefully, if I don’t fail, turn out to be the sequence of things which will give me the answers to those questions. And in doing so, I am reminded of the very sensible saying which I have never heeded, “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

What I do know is that sometimes failure isn’t a result of not working hard at something. There have been times when I’ve worked so hard on my dissertation that I’ve driven myself into incoherence and exhaustion. These efforts however have no impact on how fast or slowly my committee gives me comments, if they give them at all. On top of this, life seems to be getting in the way of progress for everyone involved, so that regardless of how much I personally do, there’s a sense in which progress isn’t really made. I am reminded of Diana Gabaldon’s book title, “Dragonfly in Amber.” If I’m the dragonfly, grad school is the amber. I beat and beat my wings, but hover still. Is that failure? Or has there happened to be an eddy right before the waterfall so that I can look ahead to the treacherous journey but am forever swirled in place? I suppose if life is a river, you’re bound to get caught in its eddies sometime or other. Is that failure, or just terrible timing and bad luck?

For all sorts of good and ridiculous reasons, I am here, working on a PH.D., which maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll finish. There are people who get several PH.D.s. They have got to be masochistic. I’ve already reached the point where I am tired of such a painful experience, but the experience isn’t willing to give me up yet. I wish I had made other life choices. There are no answers, but I keep wondering when I’ll no longer feel like a failure, or like I am trying to climb Mt. Everest in flip-flops and a bathing suit. When does the light break through the clouds? When it does, I will not look back.

The Difficulty with Making New Friends

Isolation is a frozen pond,
Achingly glacial blue.
Breaking the surface,
I can’t gloss over what doesn’t serve me anymore.

The future holds people I might come to know and befriend,
But I would have to talk to strangers,
And the past with its doubts shatters me–
Waits to lap up the tears that won’t fall.

What about it? Taking off into the world,
Tramping onto buses,off trains,
Tired, traversing time and uncharted roads,
Just to meet someone who might not love me?

I spend too much time alone in empty spaces,
So I’ll have to reach out, start again,
A falling star, hopefully crash landing into belonging.
Think again, if that at all sounds reassuring.

Despite this, I put myself in your hands,
I will take the steps unknowing,
Going out into the world once more,
I am pulled into the earnest embrace of this year,

Like a moth to a flame.
How it roars and crackles,
And cackles, and cries,
And beckons and flails wildly.

The untamed, unpredictable choice is:
come together or fall apart.
But when it’s my turn to cross that threshold,
I fleetingly wish to be anywhere else.

Flashlight eyes,
Outstretched hands,
A place for me somewhere I can’t imagine,
Shining with love and compassion.

And there’s nothing about the mystery
To suggest anything but uncertainty,
Transformation could be as wondrous as painful,
Colliding into the light we’re drawn to.

Scorched into completion, the same reason
Why we can’t find pollution on the sun,
It all gets burned away,
In a flash, just like that.

It’s been said that we cannot be humble
Without suffering and sorrow,
So silently we provide them hospitality
To guarantee we won’t become full of ourselves.

But surely learning our worth, our strength and our care of it,
Is worth being proud of,
And we will never wake up if we believe
We don’t have it within us to open our eyes

When I Loved a Narcissist

Year 2012

Contester, protester, how long have you consented
To pop every culture you’ve yet comprehended?
Resentment runs rampant,
A betrayer’s dis-ease
Passionate anger, and the door locked it’s keys

When hegemony is a commodity
And when every senseless schemed dichotomy
Rends from us autonomy, tears our very selves in two
An unnecessary planned divide between the many and the few.

To either side of the wall on Wall Street
A battle’s being waged
Left there are mobs of the many raging
Right there, cannons crouch in waiting
Their makers, long gone, now congenially debating,
Insatiably their wealth displaying: Set apart, disengaged.

The statue of Liberty waves it’s arms, cold and rusted
For unkempt intruders always welcomed, then mistrusted
Borders have been marked and crossed, their origins now overlaid
The utility costs of livelihoods over human lives
Having long ago been sought, then weighed

I’ve heard your raging excuses countless times
Such unfairness in the world, the reason why you fall
Have you ever dared to look inside
To notice what dark things you hide, at all?

It’s all wrong outside you, while slowly you’re dying
Distancing, mistaking commitment for complying
Avoiding the turmoil that lingers inside you
You focus instead on the horrors around you

The truth, can’t you see, is not just lost out there
Denied it lies languishing within you, silent despair
Would you confront it head-on as you would global warming
Hardly, my dear, for what first would you start mourning?

A child who knew no love, no friendship, just terror
No wonder you run when I try to gather
You up in my arms. And always putting you first,
It’s a foreign thing that, so you’re fearing the worst

And though I try and try, and tell you that all that you are
Brought my spirit to life, lit inside out like a star
You can’t get too close lest you venture too far
Away from your wounds and the seeds of your scars

They rattle like bones and bleed through, become ours
And your silence is deafening and shouts every word
That you never once said, though you speak, and I’ve heard
Confusion collects then like mist near dark towers
Your imprint that glistens, shatters, lingers for hours.

There is so much grief, so much fear, so much hurt
And you force me to wear your pain like a shirt
How convenient for you to have a living mirror
In which to reflect how you’re never sincere.

Of course we are alienated, living when we do,
But within us we each have a light that shines through
You tried to take mine, but I’m leaving your dream,
Oh you who are lost in a long silent scream.

For The Protection of Our Children

<Ask a child’s silence to speak
And you will learn truths you’ve never wanted to know.
When will it be time to raise our voices from the dead,
When will it be time to break our silence?

Victims are defined by spaces, behind closed doors.
I survived—formed bubbles under my skin
To trap the pain.

But one day they burst,
And when they did, acid rain
Poured over whole villages,
Turning their sands red.

There is no scissor-curled rainbow for our stories—only blackness,
When will it be time—boom, boom, boom,
Black echoes in an empty room.

We seal up the places where we’ve been marked
By hands like barnacles, wounded<
Against the tide’s rushing out like breath.

So I try to understand how I could have been
Shaken by a nanny who left me blind
An infant no stranger to death.
Aching to be found.

We lock pieces of ourselves in the past
Afraid of our own shadows,
When it's the adults that hurt us
Who are the monsters of their own closets.

When will we shatter the hourglass of secret time?
How do we mend those childhoods broken
By parents who are themselves approaching darkness 
Encroaching on long dreamless nights?

No wonder many do not speak out
Almost killed for our crying
Those who should protect and care for us
Cut us off from ourselves with the skill of a surgeon.

Rise up out of ash, left by the light we were born with
The tears shed then.
Our only hope for oasis
In the desert of the deserted.

Sound is red and raw, who counts the wounded?
The house of intelligible action
Lies, in shambles.

Truth keens across the chasms that remain
Truth keens, keys bleed,
Screams listen,

Silence shrieks in opened doorways.
How do gods determine when justice has been paid?
The bean sidhe will not rest tonight,
Nor will lurking shape-shifters with the beady eyes that glisten.

How dare anyone break a child.
Who among us dare speak a name?
None in this world or the next will claim you:
To harm a child is to will yourself a slave.

You who use and abuse the least of us,
You sign the warrant of your own exile.
Trapped inside your skin, no kin or kind,
Separate beyond ken, your prison is self made.

The time has come to break the silence,
The time has come to raise our voices from the dead,
To seek to put an end to this unconscionable violence,
Until our seventh generation knows nothing of such pain.