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Cubist eye


Glancing behind me
There’s a blurry Monet
Sweet smelling summer sunshine
followed by the
dark, dense, details of Rembrandt
and the disturbing over-tones of Gougin.
I’m searching for peace
somewhere between Rodin and O’Keefe,
but I’m stuck in the puzzle of Picasso.
Pieces of life
sectioned off
and divided by
those dividing moments:
joining Peace Corps,
realizing I was pregnant,
the day he walked away,
getting cancer…
And everything changes.
I mean EVERYTHING changes.
Divides into moments
of before and after.
Each and every cell
recreates itself
with the pieces twisted
like some unfinished Rubic’s cube
until the person I used to be
can no longer
recognize the face in the mirror.

Vicious Circles


Some days I get a bad case of the “poor me”s.
I can list every problem
Every little thing I wish was better
Every frustration
Every worry
It’s so over-whelming that I want to scream or cry
And the list seems to grow
And even get worse.
Sometimes I do cry.
More often, I scream.
Sometimes I feel so inadequate
And I wonder What the hell am I doing here?
Or even just, What the hell am I doing?
Sometimes I think I’m doing a disservice to my daughters
Sometimes I think I try too hard.
Sometimes I over-compensate for all that I think they are missing.
Sometimes, maybe, I set my expectations too high.
Sometimes I think I’m doing what’s best,
And it turns into something horrible
Or I trust too much or too easily
And it’s sometimes the wrong people
Who take what little I have
And crush my spirit into a tailspin of disbelief.
Sometimes, I think too much.
Sometimes I look at my daughters swimming in a pool
Yelling, “Watch me, Mommy!”
And I’m proud.
Oh yeah, those two adorable, very good swimmers are mine.
I made them.
I get to keep them forever.
I see them in the park, running and happy,
And I see Rumi’s bad foot.
But it doesn’t stop her.
And I don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner.
I see Raine learning to write
And her eyes light up when I show her new ways
That make more sense to her.
I walk to work over the white, stone-carved bridges
Watching men fishing on the banks of the rivers
Lined with weeping willows and colorful flowers.
A man might be standing on a flat boat
pushing it quietly along the river with a long pole.
I get to my desk, and create new projects and lessons
With helpful co-workers for enthusiastic students.
I have free time to be quiet and creative,
and money in my pocket for a good lunch.
Then I get a phone call,
“We had such a good day today, mama!
We went to the playground and played with our friends.
The nanny made delicious food.
And now I’m doing the writing pages you made me.
Raine is doing her math.
And you won’t believe this! When we went to the store,
We got to feed some rabbits.
Did you know rabbits love carrots and lettuce?”
Then I walk home with my co-workers
Across the stone-carved bridges,
And I walk in the door to, “Mommy! Mommy!”
I’m tired.
I want to sleep.
I wish I had more energy and
I feel inadequate
Like I’m not good enough…

Walk a mile…



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.



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


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.


Turning the Corner


Just one street away

are the biggest,

most expensive,

most extravagant

houses in the city.


Just one street away

every house has at least two cars,

every refrigerator is filled with food,

every bed has soft sheets,

every closet has clothes bought for and by

the person who wears them.


Just one street away,

couples are out to dinner,

children are at soccer practice or dance class,

teenagers are buying trendy trivialities

because it’s their past time.


Just one street away,

yards are filled with toys and climbers

that could put a city park to shame,

but you never see the children on them,

because they are at their soccer practices or dance classes.


Just one street away,

families are coming home from vacation,

families are going on vacation;

no one worries if they have enough gas

to get to the grocery store.


Just one street away,

someone has a doctor’s appointment,

someone has a dentist’s appointment,

and everyone has perfect teeth.


Just one street away,

a mother goes to a cafe for a little “me time”

because she has enough money in her pocket

for a cup of coffee.



On my street,

a father gets laid-off

while his wife is pregnant with their second child

because all of the factories

are stopping their second and third shifts.

The mother will get no ice-cream in the middle of the night,

no flowers in the hospital

or even the chance to buy an outfit or a toy for the new baby

–to which everyone comforts her by saying,

“It’s ok, the baby won’t notice or understand.”


On my street,

Dinner table discussions revolve around

how to make a box of cereal, some milk, three eggs, two potatoes

and a zucchini last four more days until the food stamps kick in again,

or what they should spend their last seven dollars on

since they need dish soap, toilet paper, gas for the car and shampoo

–don’t even think about light bulbs or batteries for the smoke detector until payday.


On my street,

the utility companies come around and turn off

everyone who’s even a little late,

because if they have to come out for one or two,

it’s just more efficient that way;

and then many go without electricity for days

until they can pay twice the bill (on payday)

to get it turned back on,

in the meantime trying to salvage food in a cooler,

and taking the kids to the library

because it’s either air-conditioned or heated

—depending on the season

–and it’s free.


On my street, many people have degrees,

but they have to dumb-down their resumes

because they are often over-qualified for available jobs,

and they have learned to lie about already having insurance,

because employers don’t want to pay for that,

but even if they do have insurance,

they can’t afford to use it.


On my street, mothers walk their children

in second-hand strollers,

wearing second hand clothes,

suffering from a broken tooth they can’t fix

because the check engine light has been on in the car

for three months,

and they don’t have the money to get it fixed,

and they watch the other mothers

sipping lattes in the cafes

remembering when that was them once,

and holding on to the hope

that maybe one day

they can have the money in their pocket again

for a cup of coffee.

Caller ID


I know who you are.

I know what you’re calling for.

I won’t answer the phone.

because I got nothin’.

You want money?

Get in line.

My pockets are empty

until the 15th

and most of that is already accounted for.

Yes, I know you’d like

your paper edited today

because you just finished it

and it’s due tomorrow morning,

But I have a lot of stuff to grade

you know, for work.

My friend needs a resume,

My editor keeps calling

Oh and these two little girls

who are always running around me?

They need my attention once in a while.

You want my mind?

Get in line

But for now,

I think it needs

a worry-free vacation

–it’s never had one.

I know who you are

and I know why you’re calling.

I’m not answering

because I”m tired of explaining to you

–and the others

that the cancer

and my psychopathic ex

sucked every sexual impulse

out of me.

You want my body?

Get in line.

If I ever get the slightest inclination back,

I might call you.

I know you prayed for me

while I was sick

It was important to you

and I appreciate it so much.

In fact, it probably worked

but I don’t think I need

organized religion –again.

I’m not anti-God

I’m just anti-pigeon-holing.

My spirit is a little freer than that.

You want my soul?

Get in line.

But I gotta tell you,

I”m all tapped out.



Halfway home from work, I looked at the clock in my car.  It screamed “4:45!”  I was never going to make in time.  Was he going to be pissed?  Maybe he wouldn’t even wait.  Fuck!  I tried to get out of the office faster, but all these new employees decided that was the time to bombard me with questions.

“I really have to go!”  I finally told them.  “I have an important appointment.”  To which they all apologized as I literally ran out the door.  Of course I wasn’t going to tell them it was an appointment with “Jack.”  But then I never divulged my social life outside at work.  That only caused problems.  You tell them one bad thing, and it’s the only thing people remember, and then dwell on.  Anyway, Jack was different.  He held on to his own mysteries and only divulged small pieces of them like little pieces of chocolate that I was always honored to receive.

He was a writer.  So amazing with words.  And even though I’m well-read, and well-educated, Jack would often use words I would have to look up when he wasn’t looking.  He always picked the most precise words.  I loved waking up to his little gift of words to start my morning, and talking to all hours of the night.  Even on a work night, I didn’t want to stop or tell him I should sleep.

My job was so full of pressure, and asserting myself at home was just tiring.  There was no reason to exude confidence, when I could just let the power be usurped.  It felt good to not have all that responsibility and just relax into a complete lack of power struggle.  I certainly couldn’t do that with someone I didn’t trust.  But he loves me.  He shows me all the time.  I could feel a smile coming over my face just thinking about his words, telling me how beautiful and perfect I am, telling me how much he loved and desired me.  Maybe he had told other women that in the past, but he told me I was the one who was everything he had been waiting for.

I am not going to make it!  DAMN!  I really will be the one he is waiting for if I don’t get home in time.  I hate letting anyone down.  And I will be so disappointed if he’s not there.  Nights without him seem so dark and quiet.  I wonder around looking for something to occupy me and sleep early waiting for the next day that he will enter.

He sent me all this obscure music that I fell in love with, I don’t know if because I felt it was such a beautiful gift or if it was because I actually really like it.  I made a CD collection and put it on my iPod, just so that it would provide me the soundtrack of my days.

Finally!  Pulled into the driveway, a little faster than anyone really should, left my bag –I’ll get it later.  Ran in the house, went to the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to pee when I was with him, checked my hair and face, ran a brush through my hair, put on some lipstick.  Ok, just the way he likes me.  Went back into the living room, opened my laptop.

“There you are, Alyssa!”  he said.

“I know.  I was late.  Work was crazy!”  I began to apologize.

“It’s alright.  You’re here now.”  He smiled.

“Yeah but I hate missing any minute with you!”  I said.  He smiled at me again.

Then he laughed.  “We have our whole future together.  What’s a few little minutes?”

“That’s true.”  I smiled and laughed back.

“I know what you need, you understand my needs.  We have quite a future, don’t we?”  He said.  “You’re blushing!”  He caught me.

“When can we actually meet?”  I asked him.  “I want to feel you so bad!”

“Hold on a second, please…Ok, I’m back.  A train ticket from me to you is just $69.  I can be there anytime you purchase one.  I see an interesting irony in that number.”  He laughed.

As we continued talking, I secretly worked on booking the seat.

“You know, I could wait all day to talk to someone who is intelligent, beautiful and knows herself the way you do.”  He said.  I blushed again.  I tried to look normal on the cam, so he couldn’t see what I was doing, or how happy I was about it.

“I think, my lovely dear, you have charmed me into loving you!”  I blushed again.  I had the two screens open at the same time.  I even got out my credit card, without him seeing.

“It’s done.  I bought it.  You’ll be here Thursday at 8:30 pm.  You’ll be here!  WOW!  In just a few days.  That’s….78 hours, and 42 minutes!  WOW!  I’m so excited!”

“You never cease to surprise me!”  He laugh again, at what I thought was my over zealousness, but really, it was because he had had this exact conversation before.  This was the eighth time he was able to convince someone to send for him this summer.  Not only would he get laid, he’d win that $500 bet with Mark.  Hell, maybe he’d even get to see that movie everyone’s been talking about.