What am I afraid of anymore?
It’s not the big things like cancer or death or falling from an airplane or sharks–
It’s more like the way my kidneys will squirm and my lungs implode when I tell her my torch bears her name–that I am her Champion–and she disappears on me. Again. Or closes up her hesitant, fragile shutters and hangs a No Vacancy sign around her eyebrows. I am afraid of my teenage son jumping from the deck of my unmoorable boat and floundering to calmer waters–I am afraid he will hate me someday. I am afraid of the phone call that will say my mother is yellow and bloated, that the drink finally devoured her, and I won’t know whether to feel relieved or devastated by her release, and I will remember that I never got to know her favorite color. Or tell her mine.
The 358 bus bound for downtown was crowded and I vacated my prize seat when an elder needed it. As I inched my way back, down the center aisle, cramming tighter and tighter against the other Sunday passengers, I became acutely aware, as usual, of people’s reactions to my unshaved armpits. Yesterday was my first tank top day of the season and my awareness level is turned up to high. Standing in the circular hinge of the bus, the mid-section that swivels with each corner turned, I heard someone say “Now that’s what I call a bush!” With derision and laughter. I heard this over my earphones, over my happy summertime Michael Franti–and it froze me. I had been feeling so slinky and proud, sexyfree and easy. And her offhand comment, that she probably gave no thought to, no premeditation to, slid like a buttered blade into my pink bubble of self-confidence.
But I gave no outward sign of it. I stood erect with a broad and spacious chest, my legs planted far apart in my feminist I’m-taking-up-space stance, my legs planted in a solid and flexible V, and allowed myself to slip in between the bars of the music. The music my outer ears were lovingly and graciously pulling in and funneling up to my brain. I rode the notes and rode the rising and falling of the bus, my arms outstretched, my blessed body surfing Aurora. The rhythms spread like liquid, like food coloring diffusing itself through my sytem. I allowed my knee to bounce and my shoulders to roll as I bus-danced and resisted waves of nausea and shame.
These waves were only intermittent, though. This time I was not engulfed. Spiked, but not engulfed. Here was my back-and-forth: I was strong, solid, brazen. And then watery-kneed, stung, wounded. But then loose and open and expansive, especially as I remembered Eckhart Tolle’s admonition to sink into those moments when your ego is attacked–to see what flows underneath the sharp reaction of the identity, the objectified self–to find the constant river of Being below.
With that came Freedom.
And the truth is, my armpit hair is not a fine, downy coat of angelfuzz. It really is a bush. I’ve even called it a bush. And the 18-year-old version of me who sat pressed into the window of a Greyhound bus from Chicago (where I’d been squatting) to Kansas City, trying desperately to become compact and unobtrusive, that 18-year-old who hadn’t showered in over a week while sleeping in heat-stroke Chicago streets, that 18-year-old who smelled so bad her original seatmate paid someone 20 bucks to trade places–that 18-year-old was calmed by the refuge of Being. Now is not then. Now is Now.
There is no need for Shame. No shame in me. No shame in me. The 358 incident was a rocking, but not a tipping. Not a capsizing. Not this time.
I AM LIFE
I AM LOVE
I AM A PIECE OF GOD’S SELF
My fingers are famished. They are seeking the blind opus of honeysuckle twinings and deep lava grottoes. Oceanic chambers. Salted tulips and pale plains inked with map markings and signposts.
What is the difference between symbol and sign? Symbols are mutable and translatable–the subject names the significance. Signs are like marketing–a pointing-to, a selling. Signs are directive. I don’t want to be directive. I don’t want to assign meaning.
I want to suss out your secret messages, your cryptology. I want to sniff out the footwork beneath your every-so-often silver hairs that spring watery and moonlit from your scalp. I want to be encased in your textured language–a many-colored cloak, a flash of lightning-bright teeth your smile in the sun.
The plump pause between heel and toe touching the ground, the wide-angle lens of a sudden seeing, when colors pop and pillbugs roll over mounds of clumped earth like fresh ground coffee–fresh ground coffee, my silky savored sips of french press coffee with a fine crema, a slight oiliness–morning oatmeal on my concrete stoop, the neighborhood man walking his dogs, back and forth, every day. Smallish shaggy dogs, cocker spaniel-ish, one of whom is missing large patches of hair, the skin exposed is elephantine–a thick hide. My maple syrupped oatmeal grainy over my tongue as I watch the parade of one man’s devotion. Oatmeal and coffee in the morning.
These are the spaces, the in-between places, as I learn to stop mimicking a fast-whizzing electron and Be the space between the atoms. Caverns of space. Vastness.
I am cultivating Presence.
Ali when you popped in that David Gray CD this morning and that plaintive, yearning song come on, the one I first heard 8 years ago, while speeding through rural Redmond fields at 6:45 am, on my way to horticulture school, I felt my own sighing heart pull up a chair to your table. That song will now always signify my long-held torch for you.
When you lean into the armrest in your truck, inches away from my hungry shoulder, and your weathered little freckled hands dangle over the edges of things, I imagine my toes curled around the rim of a precipice. I am suspended bat-like, arms folded like the Hanged Man of my tarot deck. The blood rushes to my head and pounds a swollen rhythm behind my eyes and unlike the Hanged Man, I am not serene.
I am a hula dancer with bound legs. I am prim and tight control when what I really want to do is gyrate and howl like a lunatic and pretzel around and around and around you. Ali I burn for you. Ali I am burning for you.
And we can’t name it, we can’t break the ambiguity that cloaks us because you rattle magnetic to the broken ones. You are the Mender. But I am intact already. I don’t need mending. I want to be a drag queen for you—all fabulousness, all glitter, all wonderland. And then I want to hold the ceramic shards of your years and cradle them, glance the sharp edges along the spider-veined underside of my tongue and taste the saltmarsh and copper of my body’s response. Because I do not faint at the sight of blood, Ali! I am softness and grit, Ali. I am bare feet on gravel. I can take it.
Feeling groggy and heavy behind the eyes. Today I woke up and stayed in bed most of the day. Finished Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” and caught up on activist emails. I also watched the movie Singles and remembered in my body what it was to be 15 again. Remembered why Seattle crooked its pale, coffee-stained finger at me in my small Kansas town, calling me out from the wheat fields. Noticed the uncanny resemblance between Bridget Fonda’s quirks and facial expressions and those of my ex-girlfriend Shifra and wondered if she, too, studied movies in her adolescence to find cues and clues about gender. Or if I gravitated toward her because of her uncanny resemblance to Briget Fonda’s character in Singles.
I wrote this poem called “Kansas in 3 parts,” which is really about the comingling of my Kansas reality and New York dreaming. I finally got a chance to write about New York Seltzer.
The sun intermittently peeks out from behind the clouds, and the high temp today is 63, but I get on the bus and air conditioning’s on. Riding across the lake to the suburbs to pick up my son Ollie with cold air brisking my shoulders. Instead of trudging up Education Hill to retrieve him from his father’s doorstep, I called Ollie and asked him to meet me at the transit center. He can do that now–that’s how big he is. He said he would just go down to the adjoining skatepark and kick it with his friends until I arrive. He’ll be a teenager in less than a month. How can 13 years go by so quickly? Actually closer to 14 years if you count the pregnancy, if you count from the moment the doctor or nurse practitioner or whoever said that I was, indeed, pregnant and the smile didn’t leave my lips for days. I was 19 years old. Now I’m 32. There’s something slightly shocking about those numbers. Not bad shocking–just looking at 19 next to 32. The difference. 19 is sort of wobbly, a stork standing on one leg, while 32 is stately and round. Curvy and substantial. How the years between 19 and 32 have unrolled like a carpet. Red carpet magic carpet drifting on seawings, red carpet for me, the star in my movie, carpet like that horrible expression “carpet muncher” that my girlhood cousins would use, which always sounded insect-like, roach-motel-like. That was before I knew I was a lesbian.
Yesterday I saw a beautiful girl with dredlocks on the bus. She was in my Intro to Judaism class two springs ago and didn’t have dredlocks then. She reminded me of Shifra. I watched the leaping of dusty pink salmon in her cheeks in response to the breezy Seattle streets and the raspy questions from the homeless man across the aisle. I felt the sharp angles of Shifra’s absence like delicate fishbones wedged between my teeth after a hastily eaten meal. The savoring comes after.