Category Archives: poetry

Free Dumb Reigns

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I have never been afraid to fly

At nine, I flew in a

150 year-old stunt biplane

Open cockpit,

Leather helmet

Flowing white silk scarf

 

My second flight ever

Was at age 17

In the pilot seat

Of a Cessna 172

My dad was the co-pilot.

I flew …

before I could drive.

 

As I got older

I started collecting stamps

On my passports,

And riding elephants

Through ancient cities

and up Asian mountains

People share pictures of their

Grandchildren at birthday parties

And their pets sleeping

I have pictures of my preschoolers

Eating meat on a stick

And giving Santa directions

To our new flat in Shanghai.

 

So when you tell me

I don’t fit your definition of what

a divorced, middle-aged, American,

cancer survivor, teacher,

single mother of two

(Insert label here)

You are right.

And I’m ok with that.

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PTSD

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When a soldier comes back from battle

With no legs

His friends don’t say, “Oh man!

How do you do it?

Go everyday without walking.

I could NEVER do that!”

 

I can’t eat chocolate.

“OH MY GOD!”  I hear.

“I would DIIIIEEE!

I need my daily blah, blah blah…”

As if the word “can’t” didn’t register.

“Can’t” is not a choice.

If it makes you sick,

If it feels like poison,

You don’t miss it.

 

Then there’s,

“Why did you wait so long to have children?”

“It’s so selfish.”

–Yeah, I’ve actually heard that.

Well you see…

Truth is

I had sex everyday

Sometimes more than once

for twenty years

then BOOM!

Jackpot!

That’s the truth,

–but it’s not what people think.

They think I chose

To have my first child at 38.

Because our life is our free will, right?

Our choice.

I love being a mother at my age.

I’m so happy it happened that way,

But I didn’t plan it.

 

TMI: I haven’t had sex

since the first bomb hit.

I was hit with 3.

That will probably keep me out of the game.

No one asks the soldier about sex.

It’s understood.

No one even mentions it to him.

This seems to be a problem and issue for others.

I’m told, “Can’t you find someone?”

I suppose I could…

If I wanted to…

But why?

It’s so trivial

When you don’t have legs,

You figure things out

And move on.

 

How does pretending to do something

Or need something

Or want something

Make me feel better?

I’m not the one in denial.

 

I live without a car.

No one questions it.

I can’t eat turkey.

No one mentions it.

I can’t drink alcohol.

No big change.

 

Why would I mourn

some little piece of chocolate

Or random night?

 

Dead Beat

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You should have been born a man

–No disrespect to men, or anything

–But one of those stereo-typical,

Narcissistic, paranoid, irresponsible,

Statistic, inconsiderate,

Lacking of commitment or

Understanding of anything outside yourself

Prepubescent with no aspirations

To do anything

Other than say…

lay around

Until years pass

Over-night

And you’re almost 50

Out of shape

Constantly complaining about some ache or pain

Or crazy neighbor

Like a crotchety old man

30 years past his prime

“Those kids were talking behind my back.”

You grouse.

Because, you know,

That’s what preschoolers do.

But here you are

In the middle of life

With an expensive education and no experience

Or common sense to back up

Any flippant remark like

“The dinner your nanny made was so good,

I didn’t save you any.”

“It’s not about you,”  and

“You know, you should get more “me” time.”

These things spout from your mouth

With no reference to open eyes,

Useful hands or a brain that processes

Outside information in any more

Complex way then a two-step process

That can’t possibly result in a conclusion other than,

“What about me?” in a whiny voice.

And the no-guilt sense of entitlement,

As if all the water you drink,

The food you eat,

the A/C you keep on 24/7

Should be a right and free

So you can spend 3 times more for a gourmet meal

To be delivered

than a family spends cooking fresh from the market.

Every lunch bought,

Every Starbucks coffee,

Every taxi ride to work

Was taken out of the pocket of

the single mother

you stole thousands from

Who walks to work with a thermos of coffee

and left-overs in her backpack.

And you and I know

deep down,

that missed opportunities and advantages

have nothing to do with

skin color, gender, or age,

Some people are well-trained

to catch the red flags I missed.

Because once the money ran out,

So did you.

Poor little victim of circumstances

Your karma created.

Misery repels company.

 

 

 

Walk a mile…

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She said, “Girl,

you need to break out of your comfort zone.”

I was confused.

Comfort zone?
I have NO comfort zone.

She was saying this
in response to my

previous confused look
as she rattled off directions,

in Chinese, of the good store
to buy clothes for my daughter

who is suddenly growing like a weed.

I had only been living in Shanghai a couple of months.

And then I started thinking…

About the first time I went camping around

the state of Arizona,

and then backpacking alone
in Alaska
without a plan,

going to an ashram in the Adirondack Mountains

without a penny in my pocket,

my two years in Peace Corps

sleeping on the floor
in a house I shared

with a 7-foot snake and 2 tarantulas

that didn’t pay rent.

Living with an abusive husband,
and going through chemo, radiation,

no voice, feeding tube,
and not even able to drink a drop of water;

I am a single mother, living in Shanghai

with my two preschool daughters

and this might be the most comfortable time of our lives,

But I wondered how a person’s perception could be so skewed.

And then I thought about Charlie

this guy I met in the ice cream aisle of the store.

We were both buying vanilla ice cream

because we both were recovering from throat cancer

and that was exactly ALL that we had in common.

He said, “I am really good judge of character,”

and then proceeded to tell me how he completely understood

“how I am building walls,”

“How I am cutting myself off from people.”
and “How I am turning away my friends.”

He got the same confused look.

–from me.

I had never been so surrounded by friends.

I had friends paying my insurance bills,

paying my rent,

taking care of my girls,

bringing food and money,

cleaning my house,

and checking up on me

all day, everyday.

George Bailey had nothing on me.

But this man Charlie,
had told the same bad joke 3 times
to 3 different people

and was so negative and off-putting

that I just didn’t want to talk to HIM.

I understand projection.

I understand perspective.

My Mohican friend, Mike, gave me

my third-stage Native name

of “Standing Wave.”

He said it’s that place in the river

where it looks calm as glass on the surface

but below there’s a rapid undertow.  

He always saw me so clearly.

Aside

Random

When my doctor told me I had cancer,

He cried.

He had to have said this lots of times.

Why did he cry?

He knew I was a vegetarian for 18 years.

He knew I was a vegan, for most of that.

He knew I was a yoga/qi gong instructor.

He knew I had two toddlers at home.

He knew I was a teacher.

He knew I never smoked,

didn’t drink,

Never even like to take a Tylenol.

“I don’t know why this happens

To people like you.” He said.

“It’s so random.”

I just remember feeling hot and blurry

Peeling off my jacket, my sweatshirt, my socks…

Just a thin t-shirt and jeans,

And I wondered

why did I try so hard

To be healthy.

It didn’t matter.

I could have eaten processed food:

Campbell’s soup and Kool-Aid–

Just like everyone else.

It didn’t matter.

But I didn’t blame God

Like everyone said I would.

I thanked him.

I thanked him that it was me

Because I could have NEVER

Survived watching one of my little girls

go through what I did.

I knew I could handle it.

I could handle anything

Except

Seeing my little girls go through

the torture

the retching pain

the sickness

their curls falling out…

The only “why?” I asked was

Why did he want me silent?

Barely able to bang on walls

For attention.

Why my throat?

I never liked my breasts.

Cut ‘em off!

My ovaries are no longer useful.

Take ‘em.

But my tonsils?

My voice?

Interesting choice.

But thank God it was me.

Random

12 Letters

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“Can we call him?”

“He doesn’t have a phone, sweetie. He lives in a small room with just a small bed and no window.”

“We can’t type on the computer?”

“Nope, there are no computers.”

“Can we visit him?”

“No, he’s very far away and you aren’t allowed to see him.”

“Well, can I send him a picture?”

“You know what? I don’t know. I think maybe you can. Let’s look it up….Yes, there is an address right here.”

“Can you send him this one? It’s a mermaid with wings. Can you tell him what a good swimmer I am, but I wish I could fly. And tell him I miss him.”

“You got mail!”

“I did? What does it say?”

“I miss you too my beautiful daughter. I think about you everyday, my beautiful daughter, and I love your beautiful art. I taped it to my wall. Your beautiful mother tells me…”

“Mommy? Why does he keep ‘apeating himself?”

“I don’t know. That’s just the way he writes.

“Mommy, I want you to tell daddy that we are moving to Thailand, and tell him that we have to fly on a plane for a long time far, far away, and it will be very hot there. And when it’s morning for him, it will be night time for us. But I don’t want to send him a picture this time.”

“Ok. You don’t ever have to send him a picture, and you don’t have to write if you don’t want to.”

“I know.”

“We got a letter.”

“What does it say, mommy?”

“It says that he is happy that we are going, and that we will have a good life there, and that it will be every good for us.”

“Where’s his letter to me?”

“I guess since you didn’t send one, he didn’t send one back.”

“I want to send daddy this picture of a prison, but look, you’re in our kitchen in Thailand making potato soup, and the police smell the soup, and they leave the door open to come here, and daddy escapes, and he comes here too because he can smell the soup…see? But I don’t think you made enough soup for all of those people!”

“That is really sweet! But let’s find a picture of what prison doors look like. You can’t just escape.”

“I was just pretendin’”

“But it was a good story though.”

“This time I want to send him a picture of my birthday. See, I put 5 candles on the cake. I don’t think he knows it was my birthday last week.”

“Sweetie, he was there when you were born.”

“Oh, really? Do you think he just forgot, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, send him this one and tell him I had a mermaid pool party and it was fun. Tell him I love Thailand and I can swim everyday, but I still wish I could fly. My fairy wings don’t work. They are just pretend.”

“We got a letter from daddy! I wanted to call you at work, but Pi Mon wouldn’t let me…What does it say, mommy?”

“…It doesn’t have any part for you this time. It just says that he doesn’t want to write anymore, and goodbye.”

Perspective

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I have been “accused”

Of living in a Utopia

–as if that is a bad thing.

Here’s the thing,

I wake up with dry mouth so severe

That it takes about an hour

of brushing, rinsing, and drinking

Just to begin regulating it for the day.

I can’t eat a snack on the run.

I can’t eat a sandwich, French fries, chocolate…

It takes me about 2 hours to eat a simple meal –even soup

Coughing and choking all the way through it

And drinking an average of three cups of iced milk

–Yes, iced milk to wash it all down.  Because

It hasn’t been a year yet since I was declared “cancer-free.”

It hasn’t been a year yet since I got my feeding tube out.

It hasn’t been a year yet since I got my voice back.

It hasn’t been a year yet since I felt like a holocaust victim

From the intensive chemo and radiation treatments

For tonsil cancer

Yes, tonsil cancer –who knew, right?

It was stage four by the time I got my neck slit in surgery.

I still have nerve damage from my right ear to my shoulder

PLEASE, don’t touch me there!

And then there was the day I did get my feeding tube out

And I thought, this is the moment

The moment true recovery begins

Not a remnant of this hell left

I don’t have to look back, just move on…

“Are you sitting down?”

“Yeah,” I lied.

“That man you were married to,

the one who beat you,

left your children,

stole your credit cards,

Who had the high education and the vocabulary

That put your English Major ass to shame,

Who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or didn’t find a job for over two years,

Yeah, he’s been arrested for two violent felony charges.

He’ll be gone until your girls are grown.

You’ll have sole-custody,

but you won’t get a penny of support.

Happy Mother’s Day!”

And then, “Wait a minute, what?”

Yes, I have taught university students for six years.

Yes, I have created and copyrighted curriculum.

Yes, I have published research.

And yes, I qualify for food stamps and daycare vouchers.

But, wait a minute, what?

You canceled my assistance because

I was on a feeding tube, and couldn’t actually eat.

And since my parents had to take care of me and my girls

And my mom was too honest to use my card for them

You just boot me out of the system, without asking me why?

Because you DO understand that I am bringing in only 50%

Of my previous below-poverty level income?

So let’s do some math.

Now I need to pay $800 a month for daycare

And $750 a month for rent

On my $732 every two week paycheck.

The “check engine” light has been on my car for over a month now

And I still have to feed my children?

Thank you WIC,

because at least we have milk, eggs and cereal.

And so, my angel of a friend lends me the money

To go to the third-world country where I served

In the Peace Corps 12 years ago.

For two painful days, my girls watched

All of their things leave the house.

We left our family and friends,

And our way of life,

Because I was pretty sure I could get a better life for my girls there.

I make half the money I did in the states,

(the same as the oncologist I tutor)

But I can afford a cute little house

And a nanny/housekeeper –which helps A LOT

Because being a single, working, mother of two pre-schoolers

AND recovering

Is crazy hard!

I still feel sick or tired sometimes from the effect of the treatments.

I’m told that can last up to two years.

Yes, I still lose my hair,

and what I have now is not growing as fast as I would like,

When I go to a store or work,

I cross a 10 lane highway and pay about thirty cents

to ride on a bench on the back of a pick-up truck.

Then I walk about a half mile in 100 degree heat

With my umbrella

Because if the sun touches my radiated neck

It will turn black and burnt and itch

And it takes a lot of Noxema for about a week

To get it back to normal.

And, I get these migraines that incapacitate me

For about 8 days out of every month,

Either from carrying my heavy backpack,

Or sleeping on a rock hard bed.

I can’t find a good school for the girls,

At least one I can afford,

So I home-school them,

Because I am a teacher, right?

And I tutor and edit on the side

For extra money, so we can

Visit family and friends.

We don’t have English TV programs,

Or a car.

Cream of Wheat,

bras in my size,

and gyros

Not available for thousands of miles!

Oh, but wait!

You’ve never heard any of this before,

Because I don’t whine, complain,

Blame others, or

Air my problems in public.

What you hear is:

“Had a great dinner! –Ate every bite!”

because that is such a big accomplishment.

“The girls had a wonderful time swimming with their friends,

while I got to take a nap.”

“I just got a massage, and I feel so much better!”

“We have such generous and helpful

friends and neighbors here.  I am so thankful!”
So yes, I guess I do live in a Utopia

Because I chose to.

I created it.