My neck is crumped junk rickety poppety crackly just add milk. Rub milk and oatmeal into my skin. Strip away my cotton and corduroy and smear my body with wordsoup, all mushy with crushed-up crackers. Remembering dim living-rooms in circles with television sets that never got turned off. All that spark and sinewy celluloid plucked and strung like hamstrings from hearts to screen–my dad lived there. The grisly scene of bib overalls and the sofa king, static between sitcoms. Autumn has a remembrance of Wellington and fading daylight dwarfed by the light of the TV. My dad, the ogre, stay out of his way, growling, shoving meating hands through the air, ham-fisted, it always comes back to bacon.
The Tates’ house next door always smelled like bacon. I know because I would go over after school in 5th grade to hang out with Michelle. This was years before she was murdered and thrown down a well and left to wither under an unblinking Kansas sky. When I would go to her house next door where she lived with her grandparents I loved the smell in the air, like woodsmoke, like they were always lighting fires. Michelle and I were best friends then and her room was in the cool, unfinished (as I remember it) basement. The bare concrete didn’t prevent us from being perfectly comfortable and cozy. We both loved sweaters and learning and we’d do our homework and then lay out our clothes for school, arranging outfits, swapping sweaters. I still love sweaters.
When she died we didn’t know each other anymore, at least not in the easy intimate way of grade school. She’d long since gone to live with her mother, I think, in McPherson. Another small Kansas town. A white man got ahold of her when she was just sixteen and it was days before Christmas. I remember the double axe blow of that fact: Christmas. Michelle had gone to stay the night with the man’s daughter after a night of high school drinking, so the story goes, and I seem to remember there was something about his reputation for being virulently racist, and Michelle was black, and what FUCKING UGLINESS!!! I was also sixteen and didn’t know what to do with it.
Michelle is gone and we didn’t know each other beyond 5th grade but I have my 5th grade class picture, Mrs. Pettigrew’s class, and me and Michelle are standing shoulder to shoulder in our sweaters, and I’m looking shy and sort of pained while she’s beaming dimples and irrepressible joy and there is still and still and STILL a tiny piece of her essence left smoldering in my heart.
And the reverberation of this death pounding against the palms of my feet and ripping through my esophagus like a long-winded twenty-year scream is that this one death, this taking, huge as it is, is not an isolated incident. It happens every fucking day. What did she know in those last elongated minutes? The horror of being prey…
On the Murder of Michelle Tate when we were both 16, 20 years later
A tree of winterhearts
bared and headless.
Just fingers, dozens
clustered and clutching,
berries at their
what we’ve been forced
to swallow the naked
skeletons of our
wanting and wheedling
the trees scratch
their chins wondering at
their misplaced sun-
Where have our
gone and what
is this floodlit plain,
all pockmarked with
craters where trees once
stood? Where lithe-limbed
on one leg
before the cutting, the
has Michelle gone
to? And who will plant
Great mo-ment, like rhymes with ferment. Momentum. The movement of seconds all piling up on each other. I want to explore the wild territory of my mind. The many ecosystems. Why are my eyes so heavy? It is 8:30 pm and I arose at 9:30 am–not 12 hours of this day and I am exhausted. I noticed i needed nourishment. After Chris shared her yummy vegetable melange with me last night as we traversed the Aurora bridge by Metro bus and oohed and awed over the bright dynamic rainbow like a candycane jutting out of the sky, and so perfect like Goddess winking at us on National Coming Out Day, I awoke thinking about vegetables. I’m out of working gel pens and I hate writing with ball point but I’m out of money, too. So today our biweekly box of produce arrived from the farm, right onto our doorstep. After my shower and meditation and energetic shimmywiggles and casting a spell, I washed the dishes and took out the compost and spent the next hour chopping vegetables. Leeks and beets and carrots and garlic and broccoli and romanesco (which is like spiral-shaped broccoli!) and mushrooms. One whole lime squeezed into the sizzling cast iron skillet. Smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Deliberately avoided spices, wanting to just enjoy the simple essence of the veggies themselves.
But I am now feeling at the end of my tolerance. Aggro. Aggressive. Irritated. Angry, hungry, lonely, tired. On the bus with one of those drivers who slams on the brakes and stomps on the gas and thank Goddess I was able to slide into a forward-facing seat because being shoved sideways again and again from the momentum would drive me goddamn crazy. I’m at the piont of what Amanda calls “hitting a wall.”
Open open open jawlines big mouths big eyes big big big movements! Jumping down the street, springing out of bed, springing into bed, singing through your bank teller interactions, steamtrain streetcar trolleycar San Francisco push it up the hill! BIG jump BIG smile big teeth eyes silverdollars sand dollars ocean waves sound waves flower chains rumblemarches then
slow deep soft big presence. The presents of listening and love medicine. I want my writing to be a magickal green salve, a butter for your wounds, milk for minds and floss for heart ventricles. I want to be a vulnerable wing-ed example of truth-telling, of truth-listening. Not enough about listening out there. Lots about talking, not much about listening.
My writing will be water for parched lips, refreshing fresca bubbling down throats–firing up throat chakras, leading to love-ins, opening wingspans to wonder and excellence. We will all see each other and address one another as “Your Excellency.” Because aren’t we all perfectly excellent?
I don’t need to tear the place down, I don’t think smart equals frown! Throw out the lassos and de-invisibilize the women! Swim in, swim in, swim in schools and circle the wagons. Tie up the hyenas with red ropes of licorice and slide down sugary mountains all planted with trees. I will seize the moment–no I will release. I will release the moment. It’s not about clutching and grabbing, it’s about
around the cornices
in the great big
Dear Shae, You are a writer. A poet-y pomegranate writer. Your pen slides and windows open, glass doors vanish, the crickets are there creaking and churring in realtime, with bows for legs and hedgerows reveal the imperfectly rounded red berries–each fruit bears a name, a name, each fruit ripens in its own time, in the teeth and splendor of birds with their beaks rounded off by sandblaster sun, gravel rolling around in stomachs, grinding grain into flour, baking bread early mornings while the fog city sleeps. I could write children’s books! Child to child, the child inside the grownup. I speak from kitestrings and puddles, galoshes and huddles, hide and seek magic concealed in the trees.
I came out as a pagan and a recovered alcoholic but most especially as a writer. To be specific, I have come out as a poet. To myself. In this week of reading my leatherbound journals of a decade ago, the writing shines up and out through wine-stained pages and beer bottle labels pressed carefully in place like bookmarks and ponytails of men who I’d hoped would have breasts and why is this subject so difficult? I’m constantly coming out in one way or another.
Elaina brought me a beautiful bowl of food with toast cause I said I was hungry and trying to convince myself I’ve been fasting today. In truth I was too careless and excited to pack food or eat food for my day’s poetry adventures and so when faced with the rumble of my stomach, I just told myself “You are fasting” instead of “You are too broke to buy food right now.” And Carolyn bought me coffee today just because. I hadn’t asked for it, or mentioned wanting it. This is just how the Goddess provides. I miss Cody in my poetry class.
I am a writer. I am a poet. I am not a thief. I do all of this above-board, above the fray my essence . Ego gets tangled too sometimes but remember I am kite strings and puddles, galoshes and huddles, hide and seek magic concealed in the trees. And poetry class in this busy, loud place is just what it is. Just now. This is what I am given, this is what I am livin and that is perfection. What if I waved in the tall grass, the bluegrass, the crabgrass, the Space Needle? What about sitting in front of that fountain with music pulsating, the jetstreams, water arching into liquid cathedrals, umbrellas swivelling in unison, tandem bicycles color harmonicas?
This is where my poet soul lives.
Such a big elastic stretched out word like I can carry you, can I carry myself, how are my lumbars holding up? Lumbago vertigo Lambada the forbidden dance of asking for help. Help spelled out among broken bottles, a glass rainbow of shards as seen from the sky, from this eagle’s eye view or Goddess eye view which is infinitely sharp and able to plunge to great depths with no hesitation, no hesitation. And Judith said I could give it a rest, could stop digging for awhile. Rest.
Help, sky, signals, the hunter knows, the hunter sees, and what I know is the sonar traveling between my many-colored selves as captured with small slivers of light on my journals’ pages, over the years, my lineage of selves.
Judith says “talk to your little girl, talk to that little poet.” She refers to her as “she” and I see my village, and remember my writing teacher saying that her preferred gender pronoun is “village.”
Village. We. They. When does we become they or wheat become whey and really isn’t everything and everyone just interchangeable anyway? The moment I begin to heal the world is the moment I can look inside myself and find the murderer who lives there, alongside the judge, the teacher, the jester, the warrior, the mother, the father, the child, the saint.