#12 Sad Woman Walking

I am the sad woman walking towards you

Eyes on the ground, so you can’t see me

But you know

You know by my heavy steps

The extreme muscular labors that push me forward

Through the vacuum between us

That if I looked up

And looked directly at you

You could see the turmoil

Set in just under my eyelids

You know by the bags I carry

That pull me down

Packed with the contingencies for all possible disasters

To stave off the self-criticism to come

Too much, not enough, late, wrong

A rap sheet of epic failures

My spine bends in resignation to these faults

The bags would break my fall if I stumbled

It’s easier to carry the weight

But you also know

When we finally do pass each other

Our eyes making a simultaneous threat assessment

Giving each other the all clear

And you are talking to your friend on the phone

Or laughing with the group you are with

That I wish I were you

Living that life on a high shelf

I can’t reach

Because I’m too short, or because

It’s simply not meant for me.

#11 Ode to John Wayne

My dad wanted an Irish wake when he died

A real one he said

The kind where the friends and family get drunk

Tell stories and laugh

And perhaps cause a fight or two

Fisticuffs for the deceased

Something John Wayne would have done in The Quiet Man

No tears, no regrets, no false sympathies

No parades of mourners lining up for one last look

At the body

Only camaraderie, bravado, and a little bit of excess

His way of dying with dignity

But when my dad did die, after his body broke down

And the signs he ignored for so long

Came around with a balance due

We failed him

He laid in an open casket, and we all took our turns

His face immaculate, his hair coiffed

His body so carefully staged for the auction to come

“Beautifully preserved recently deceased male, who wants to open the bidding?”

And the mourners came

They came with carefully measured solemnity

They got their cheap thrill

They hugged, they cried

All in defiance of my dad’s order

He must have been pissed off

Ready, like Wayne’s character Sean Thornton

To start the fight when a fight was necessary

But not today, Dad, not today

I spoke, I can’t recall what I said exactly

But I mentioned that he loved John Wayne movies

The swagger, the no bullshit persona

Which made a few people laugh

Because they knew it was true

That’s who my dad wanted to be

The soul of an Irishman

Living in his Ecuadorian and Mexican body

He will always be that to me.

#10 Conundrum

I can’t relax

I am twenty-four hours a day of jittery

A short, walking, double shot of espresso

Feet to the pavement, in constant motion

Walk, walk, walk, walk

Down new and familiar streets

Mapping and remapping this city in my head

Cartography for my solitude

This is my quiet

Because stopping, taking a breather

Is cowardice, defeat, and

Would allow my brain to pause just long enough

To let the spastic ruminations, what ifs

Worst-case scenarios, and internal disaster planning

Stake their place.

Too many thoughts, too many worries

Not enough space to put them all

No way to keep them down

Hold them back

Block their escape

If I stop moving

Walking is my rock, thoughts are my paper

And yet

While rock holds down paper, paper covers rock.

#9 Outsider

You belong outside

My multi and long-legged adversaries

Not in my house, not

As happened once, hovering quite delicately on the ceiling

Right above my bed

And waiting, I think deliberately

Until I had barely opened my eyes

To fall straight down on top of me

Or your friends, dangling seemingly without effort underneath a free standing tub

So that while I bathed I was never quite sure

If they would join me

I know you are (for the most part) harmless

I have been told of the good you do in the world

How you eat other insects

And keep the natural order of things chugging along

I can live with that

Just do it out of my sight.

#8 “Blazing off nervous tension, having a breakdown”-Ted Hughes, The Badlands

If you could see inside me you might glimpse the fire blazing

Smoke confined to the inside, carrying the flames off

To the four corners of my psyche, producing a nervous

But persistent quiver that breaks the tension

Of keeping the sadness at bay, of having

To hold it all in, suffocating my voice with a

Hard hand at my mind’s wheel, steering directly into the breakdown.

#7 Small

I inhabit the small

My small apartment, a little box that is my refuge

From any and all monsters outside

But not so small; I still check the closets when I come in

To make sure no one is hiding.

My small stature, I am not quite five feet tall

Always in the front of the group photo

But not always seen over the counter

People apologize but I see right through them

When they claim they could not see me.

My small life, driven by design

To contract rather than expand

Staring up into a world out of my reach

I am Alice after the potion.

#6 Sleeplessness

You kept me up last night

When I should have been sleeping

Against my better judgement I clicked on the link to your life

(Because our lives are simply the result of someone’s search engine)

And there you were, in all your glory

And glamour

Beneath the lipstick, the leggings, and the long, black hair

I try to find you, I try to find the face that haunts me

That I’d rather not remember

When you were my brother.

You change your looks and you change your name

But can you change your memories?

Because I cannot change mine

No matter how hard I try.

I can’t actually

Ever go to sleep.

#5 Mi Rancho

There was a Mexican grocery store called Mi Rancho

Near the city jail

Buttressed by bail bondsmen and cut-rate law offices

A sweet spot for viciousness

This was downtown Oakland, CA in the seventies

Rough and raw and flush with low expectations

No gentrification to be found here

But to us kids, oblivious to the dangers of the streets

Mi Rancho was our wonderland

We could smell the chorizo as soon as we entered

Peppers and sausage and lard mixed together

Then perfectly encased in its delicate skin

That my mother would oh so carefully remove

With one flick of a sharp knife

How she didn’t cut herself I will never know

Then she would fry it, and the whiff of the spices

And the sparks of fat crashing against the pan

Lulled us into perfect bliss.

#4 Colorless

There is a vase of dried flowers and peppers

Sitting behind my computer as I type

Bought long ago at a farmer’s market

In the deepest hues of reds and yellows

Colors frozen in time.

But they are long past faded now

The red peppers have not aged well

Sick and gasping for air

Even dead flowers have dreams

Of being sustained in their after-lives

But I have failed them.

#3 Let there be Light

I wish I could emanate light

in one, long, straight shot to the world

to say I am here, I am alive

I am ok.

But a long time ago I lost that light

Illumination was taken from me

when I could not defend myself.

And whatever spark remained has kept me

just bright enough to get by

to avoid the obstacles of human interaction

but not yet to shine.