As a young child, I carried many ants
on my arms
but he blew them off
in the hurricane of his voice.
He hacked away at the woods with his questions,
one tree at a time,
one dream at a time,
severing my heart from his
until the forest of my soul laid bare.
I grew up in the shadow of his cloud
never asking for more sunshine
than needed to stay put within the four walls
of family and expectations.
Can roots grow where there are none left?
Can they grow like philodendrons
from nothing but water
and promises to change?
Here, in the garden
with the running water
of the fountain.
The sun burns my eyes with hope and
I feel a tingling.
My nails grow long and spindly.
My body shrinks with wrinkles.
My voice cracks like the heron’s calls.
I see an old woman now,
with long, greying hair,
roots twisting and
touching the earth
that holds her father’s ashes.
Bid the clouds that muffle
our cries farewell,
for it is not too late yet.
You left today, drove off,
and so I ride around on my bike
looking for the rabbits and squirrels
that we saw yesterday, but there is no one
nothing for some time.
Florida tests your imagination
of apocalyptic futures like that,
it’s the emptiness, the perfect
blue sky shown at the start
of horror films, and the endless,
newly paved streets that hit dead ends
no matter how hard you try to get out.
My wheel hits the breaks in the road,
mimicking the heartbeat of the moment,
the dull thuds that fill you
when something’s just left.
The ever-growing hunger stamps itself
in my belly. Still, nothing moves,
the wind blows hard.
Today the world wants me to peddle faster
a tempting fate of concrete and
scraped knees dazzles in the sun.
It’s doing me a favor,
the sweat distracting me
from the melting parts inside.
I’m the candle already lit, and you
are the lightbulb. I burn
and spread on surfaces, staining.
You stay lit until a fuse blows,
then you upgrade.
There was a particular deodorant I used when I was a teenager going to junior high school in Katy, Texas—TEEN Spirit Stick in a floral scent. Orchard Blossom to be exact. Today when I smell the Lady Speed Stick version of the same scent (the TEEN Spirit Stick has since been discontinued), I’m transported back to the gym changing room at school.
I remember my terror of being the new kid at school, of being foreign, of being the outsider, and of being the girl who didn’t want straight hair for her school photo but managed to trip over a cord running to another girl’s straightening iron. The memory is fresh like a first disappointment. The other girls in the big bathroom twisting their little necks, scowling down at me and my thick, thick, brown hair. I remember hanging onto a basketball with a steel grip, wrestling for the ball, pulling it away from another girl who fought just as hard. I held on with a hold that spelled out fear and determination, that said: “Let me be. I’m just a girl wanting to belong. Let me in.”
After that, from the pleased looks on the faces of the adult coaches and the other students, I could tell that I’d gained some ground. It sickened me to know that I had to fight and claw my way to be accepted. That I had be challenged first, like I was guilty until proven innocent.
Most of the time, I felt like a nobody at school. A walking hollow of a kid. Not American, but not quite British. An imposter. A hybrid person. An anomaly that didn’t fit into the American dream’s puzzle of being a young American schoolgirl. I remember coming home one day and writing on the white board stuck to the fridge, “I’m losing my soul.” My mother frowned at me later, asking me to clarify what I meant. I couldn’t explain it till much later when I was in my twenties.
Sometimes I ate my packed lunch sitting on a closed toilet seat in the bathroom holding a book in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I was a shy, introverted kid who dreamed in video games, daydreams of being an artist, and fantasy novels where girls were strong and flew majestic flying ships. These things took me far, far away.
The smell of orchard blossom is a lesson in the meanness of strangers, in the value of solitude, and in the early crafting of an identity.
It’s March 2010 and I walk through the campus in the aftermath of the huge hailstorm. I smell a strong, pungent, and earthy smell. It takes me a moment to identify the source, but once I see the tall, eucalyptus trees shivering before me, I know it’s coming from them. The fact that there was that much fragrance—that much love—coming from destruction was surprising and enlightening. It was a relief to know that sometimes a little shaking could release something new. It was the first time I looked at the trees with a sense of wonder. I hadn’t realized their full beauty—their potential—until now.
Hello, I said.
I thanked the heavens for the joyous, freakishly strange occasion, the sky still gray and broken overhead. I stepped over broken bits of tree like I was stepping over a dead body: slowly and respectfully, trying not to stare too much, whispering words of mourning, words celebrating the life that was, the life that could still be felt. While standing on the white carpet blanketing the grassy oval in late summer, a strange, sudden chill shook my body and I knew that a memory had been born.
Before bed, I take a sniff of the eucalyptus oil I keep on my bedside table and shudder with the memory of the hailstorm. My body relaxes and I lay myself down like tree branches stretching in the air.
Right now I’m resisting nature. I’m resisting my desires, my inclinations, and my dreams. And for what reason? And at what cost? Too much. The only valid reason I can see why someone would forgo their dreams temporarily is to earn money and save so that doing the dream is easier, but I’m living paycheck to paycheck for something I don’t want, so what am I doing it for? Experience? Experience for what? More of the same thing? I might as well live paycheck to paycheck for something that I love.
(What do you think?)
I think I’m finally understanding what life is all about. I think I know what I need to do.
Go with the flow.
Just go with it. Or better yet, be the flow. Or even better, go with your flow.
Ok, there’s a lot going on here. What I’m saying is take the opportunities that you see and watch where you go. Listen to your gut. That’s flow for me. But there’s not just one way to do things. Everyone’s flow is different. Go to the beat of your drum. Why pretend to be someone you’re not? I feel that when I stop flowing, I get grumpy sooner or later. Out of sync. But if I listen to my beat and really feel out my thoughts, I am a lot happier.
Follow and be numb forever.
Breathe, I say to myself, look up at the sky. For me, this is flow. Concrete may surround me (since I’m in New York City) but the sky is always there, and a tree, a leaf, or a cup of soil is not too far away. This is why I walk to Union Square this Friday evening. To see the tall trees. The greenness. To smell the peppery French lavender at the stall in the market. To touch the snap peas on offer. To bite into an apple. All these things put a sense of peace inside of me that not many other things can do. I feel like grabbing soil, getting dirt under my fingers, and seeing roots weaving through the earth. I want to feel grass under my feet and hold onto a tree for support as I climb up, up a hill to a lookout where I can survey the land. Hmm, maybe I should go hiking. Or volunteer somewhere like this.
(Do you like hiking? Gardening?)
This feeling comes from a desire to be the animal that I am. Sweat, grunt and exert my body. That’s why I like the gym. I awaken and feel the burn in my muscles. After running, I am light and mindful. I also want to love and make love. One day, I’ll even reproduce. How cool is that? We are all animals.
I keep singing.
I want to feel and not stay passive or mute. Follow and be quiet forever. Eventually, you’ll be screaming inside. Nearly every morning before work as I take the elevator to the 7th floor I start to sing. Sometimes I shriek. I tell myself that I’m warming up my voice for human interaction but I know it’s more than that. I’m releasing something. I am bringing myself into my body and feeling my breath. I always think someone will catch me one day belting out a song when the doors open but it hasn’t happened yet. I keep singing.