“It often shows an excellent command of language to say nothing.” – Karol Newlin
if in the words i have chosen
i have offended
it is because i do not know how to unsay them
if in the words i have withheld
i have broken
what cannot be repaired is my silence
my cells are still the same cells and my blood
beats the same as it ever has but
how things have changed between us
and how when i know you can i not know what to say
can i be at such a loss
my tongue and teeth a bridge between what you want
and what i need
as a child i made a promise
i pretended to sew up my lips with invisible thread
i pretended to lock up my lips with an unseen key
but there is no more needle and no more lock
and the promise forgotten left unsaid
if you believe in my breath
a rush of wind through trees
a slow tide creeping to shore
you would understand that my silence
is no weapon
it is the wound left behind
— Halsted M. Bernard
Buildings for the people smell like the people, and sometimes the worst parts of the people. Marin County’s courthouse is no exception, despite its salmon and turquoise exterior, ultra-Wright in its justice-fair lines and circles.
The autumn is difficult.
Unnecessarily tied to the leaves, I am drawn
to step on the ones curled into fetal positions:
the helpless ones.
You raised your foot last year; now
I step on the leaves. I am satisfied by
the thick crunch that erupts. I kept my pain
hidden in my room, sequestered as it grew colder.
Down the wooden hall, you could hear me cry.
Everything grows colder. Days distance you
from me, and I don’t hear from you anymore.
In the spring, I thought I had recovered;
the new buds on the trees were tiny green flags,
indicating my home stretch. Home free.
Fuck this awful place. Fuck this place inside
where leaves are ever dead. Piles of them
collect and I don’t even have the pleasure of
burning them, and smelling the spiced smoke.
Piles of little failures threaten to trip me up,
covering each wobbly step.
Calendar pages turn. It will always be this time
of year, once a year. I found what you wrote me
in the winter, on my own pages. What time of year
did you expect me to find this? And you know I won’t
ever deface a book. The pages remain; I can’t rip them out.
Sick shit, she says as I recount these pages.
We walk through leaves; she kicks, I crunch.
Sick shit to do that to you now. Fuck him!
But I don’t know what’s sick and what isn’t.
I never did, when it came to you.
Good luck, you said. Good luck, honey.
Like you were standing beside me, touching my nape
before I went onstage to read. I would rather
remember that autumn instead of last one.
My hands shook as I gripped the lectern and read.
I read for you the poems you wouldn’t read yourself.
Everyone clapped. Outside, the dead magnolia leaves
slapped and scraped my shoes, too big to break.
We were okay then.
I want to rip the trees out with my bare hands.
I want to scream at them, make them understand
their persistence grates my guts into ribbons.
Every year there is less of me to tear apart.
Good luck, honey. The leaves are still piling up.
— Halsted M. Bernard
Two, for you, before I goo. Er, go. Before I go. Right.
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
You Fit Into Me
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye
I wasn’t pleased with my performance at the writing workshop last night. I wrote a good piece, and read it well, and it got some chuckles, but at least two others’ pieces were much funnier. They were wonderful; I laughed out loud several times during both! Since the subject was humor, and I thought mine was one of the funniest things I’ve ever written, it caused me to fret over my ability to convey funny situations in writing. I know I make people laugh in person; I want to be able to make them laugh in print.
To me, writing is art, and my particular hand at the craft is a good one; I know this. I am ever striving to be better, and I don’t seek empty flattery in order to buoy my ego. Workshops are important to me because I have a barometer of how well I am doing. The piece I wrote is hilarious to me, but I now understand that it’s not to other people. That doesn’t make it a bad piece, but I only have one contribution to make in this particular workshop on the subject of humor, and I wanted it to be a stellar one. Consistently challenging myself to write the best I can is the only way I feel good about writing, because when I challenge myself to produce better work, it happens. I just didn’t do the best I could have with this assignment, and since I only get one shot this time around, I am disappointed. But like I told my mom, I will get over it. I just need to be crabby for a bit.
On the way to my writing workshop last night, I called my mom, hoping to sing her a song. Instead I sang it to her answering machine. I think she was tickled by that. She has such a lovely voice that I have been intimidated to sing to her, although I know she loves it when I sing. Her feedback reminded me that I must measure myself by my own standards and not others’, because there are certain things that other people will always be better at than I will. I strive to find what it is that I’m best at, and then to hone that with all that I’ve got.
Our workshop instructor said to tell everyone you’re writing a book, even if you aren’t. That way, people will ask about your book, and you’ll feel guilty enough eventually to start kicking around ideas, and then you might put some words down on paper, and once that ball is rolling, you can actually write a book. I’m not sure I believe in this sort of deceptive motivation, but I think I can honestly say I am writing a book. I started it for NaNoWriMo last year but never finished after I lost motivation because of all I was going through with Chad. I can’t say what it’s about, because it’s not well-formed yet, and I need to focus on its plot, but I think I will be focusing on it during my daily writing sessions instead of cranking out reams of half-assed poetry. My workshop instructor has already given me a lot of great feedback and she is impressed by the voice of my work, and she’s told all of us that a few people who have taken her classes have gone on to publish their first novels shortly thereafter. I want to be one of those people; I want to write a novel. I think that’s all I need to do, then: write it.
I still have no idea how grad school fits into all of this. I am driven to go, either by moving away and cranking it out full-time or by enrolling in a distance-learning program. All three of the schools I’d like to attend have distance-learning programs. I have just started to put down roots here, after four years, and I am loathe to disrupt what little stability I have embraced. Besides, I still yearn to live in the city someday. However, if I go away to school and do it full-time, it’s possible that I can knock it out in three or four terms. Plus, I would get the full college experience again, which I miss desperately.
There is so much possibility in my life that I don’t know where or how to start.
What follows is a piece I wrote for my creative writing workshop, an exercise on describing a character. The original draft of this appears in my journal several years ago; it has been only slightly modified.
Mr. Personality is my favorite library patron, by far. I am convinced he is an alien being. His features are the epitome of “chiseled”, refusing to move but for a small curling of his upper lip, Elvis-like, when he is tired and Needs Stuff Now. He is nearly seven feet tall, arms thinly muscled, bound to his sides like jungle vines stiffening from lack of use. If he could be bothered to hurry, he would lope on his long wolf legs. Tiny wire-rimmed glasses are stapled in place by his furrowed brow. I would not know the color of his eyes because they are always averted, scanning objects with his cybernetic implants, assessing the terrain, ever avoiding human warmth.
Mr. Personality got his name upon first meeting while I was still a student assistant at the library. His tone of voice — although pleasant, even soothing — does not change levels; he has said the phrase “I need $5 on my copy card” maybe a hundred times to me, and I have never noticed any change in tone or enunciation. Our first meeting was dramatic: he handed me his copy card and asked for 50 copies. I put 50 copies on his card, and handed it back to him. He handed me a starched ten-dollar bill — I swear, he must iron them — and I gave him back his change. “Thanks,” he said, in the most thankless, empty tone of voice I’ve ever heard. And then he left.
“God, he’s just Mr. Personality, isn’t he,” I remarked to a co-worker, who promptly laughed, said he was always like that, he’s always been like that. And so he was named.
Mr. Personality is my exact emotional opposite. Whereas I feel everything, and so acutely, Mr. Personality seems to feel nothing at all. He does not dawdle, or daydream; watching him make copies, one would think his muscles had computed the most precise movements that arms and upper body could make while efficiently and consistently expending energy. His money is always crisp, smells brightly of the bank, and payday, and sometimes I catch myself plucking out the less-withered bills from the register for his change.
Here exists a person I have almost daily, face-to-face contact with, whom I know nothing about, who knows nothing about me, and it fascinates me to no end that I have left not one impression on him in the past three years. Not a tendency to nod to me, give a curt wave, an extra “thanks,” nothing. I wonder if anyone has ever left an impression on him at all. And here I am, all impressions, all indentations, like gull prints in wet sand.
What follows is a piece I wrote for my creative writing workshop, an exercise on describing a setting.
Layers of laziness swathed the interior of the black Toyota Echo. Since she had struck out on her own, the car, once such a point of pride, had become a perverse time capsule of things she never wanted to keep.
On the floor of the car, then: the Do Your Own Divorce in California Handbook and corresponding paperwork, carefully laid there months ago so if she ever did happen to park near his car, and he happened to look inside hers, he would see that she was doing it, moving on, moving up. It was covered up with a large bag with a cheerful red apple logo on the side, an old knitting project spilling out of it, a would-be gift never finished last winter. Near the tangled strands of fading red and blue sat a copy of the 2003 Poet’s Market, carefully tabbed pages indicating the latest brand of rejection. Silt clouded all the edges, a faint trace of that horrible habit that she welcomed back into her life, little ash-bits everywhere, and the smell (faint to her, strong to non-smokers) clung co-dependently to the sunvisors.
Upon entering the front seat, one could hardly avoid the jungle of adapters that vied for dominance in the hole the lighter left. Old copies of Harper’s and The Fortean Times splayed across the passenger side seat. It was not a place for companionship, or road-trips; it remained empty of voices except when she sang to herself, old love songs in a delicate soprano. An occasional monologue interrupted the medley, meant to be delivered to him, the ever-present him who could not ever get comfortable in the tiny capsule, who would not ever have to try again.
And always, she fastened her seatbelt, more paranoid than careful, and afraid of the airbags.
What seemed like a lifetime ago, I met someone named Kelley. Actually, that wasn’t her name, but I kept calling her that so she answered to it after a while. While we were both teens, we went to summer camp together. Kelley was hilarious, took risks, breathed life at double-speed. I was in awe of her.
I was thrilled when she enrolled at Edinboro. I was sure everything was going to be just like it was in summer camp. Hell, we were even staying in the dorms together again. What could be better?