I’m really struggling with this one. Not sure if it’s done yet. Every time I look at it I end up changing something. I started with a few lines salvaged from an intro piece I wrote for a performance at a Breaking Grounds Poetry fundraiser last year. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about identity in recent months and way too many to fit into this poem.
I’m afraid it’s too long. Believe it or not, I don’t particularly enjoy talking about myself. I’ll talk about my thoughts and feelings and experiences … no problem, but about my self? That’s just got to be a boring subject. I mean, who cares, really?
But ultimately, like any communication, it is about sharing the personal in order to discover the universal or at least identifiable. If I’ve written anything that matters, it’s because it’s about “you” as much as it is “me.”
See how I’m stalling. OK. Here’s the text. By the time you read this, I’ve probably already changed it. 😉
Last exit before 44: identity poem
“Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.” -Ranier Maria Rilke
We were making dinner —
well, he was cooking and I was watching —
when a fly came out of nowhere,
glided to the floor and quietly died,
presumably of natural causes,
as if it had just ran out of gas,
sputtering to a halt on the kitchen floor.
There’s no way to know how much time is left.
Six weeks before my 44th birthday —
my unlucky number when I was a kid —
and I’m begging you to tell me I still matter.
They say you’re only as good as your last story,
so when the by-line gets yanked out from under you
and you’re told to work for the big picture,
you feel yourself become irrelevant faster than you can remember how to spell irrelevant.
You’re now a very important nobody,
which makes your ego wonder if
you were ever anyone in the first place.
I’m sorry if I did not turn out to be who you thought I was.
I am so much more than the potential I failed to reach.
Expectations are a bitch.
The truth is I am not my job.
It is something I do —
like drink tea and make things from scratch
talk too loud, walk too fast, love too much
and daydream all the time.
“What’s lurking in the basement of your personality?” My email asks.
What the fuck kind of question is that?
Maybe I should ask my little sister.
She’s always been able to see
that itchy part of my back I can’t reach.
She knows all the weird faces I make
when I don’t think anyone is looking.
Reminds me about things I forget to remember.
The left hand to my oblivious right,
she helped me raise two precious girls —
the best things I’ll ever make —
when their daddy and I brought them into this world
before we knew how to take care of ourselves.
She might say for as much as I have changed,
I haven’t changed that much at all.
I’m no longer the Girl Scout
or the crossing guard I used to be,
but I still love strawberries and the stage,
cowboy boots and steel guitar.
I’d rather mountain air in my lungs
and lake water on my skin
than to fend too long in any one city.
And when reality gets to be a bore
I take refuge in books;
a more nutritive escape than drinking and drugs.
This lesson I learned too late (or maybe just in time?):
That life is richer and more thrilling when you can feel it,
and even the pain can be beautiful.
I’ll give you the shirt off these shrugging shoulders,
go ahead and take my last dime,
but don’t tell me what to do unless I ask you to decide.
I need room to breathe and time alone,
just don’t let me get lonely.
I’m still afraid to ask for what I want.
See, I’m hot and then I’m cold.
One moment, I promise loving-kindness,
then, I’ll tell you my heart is cold
because I don’t cry when I’m supposed to —
not when tragedy happens.
I cry when people are kind.
I weep to witness random acts of generosity;
when a man breaks down and finally confesses
what he has too long been afraid to say.
Why is it the most romantic stories do not live happily ever after?
But only when love has been starved
(because distance or circumstance or death)
do we really know what it means to love
beyond the limits of selfish desire?
I don’t mean to confuse you.
I am not some elusive hipster band too unique to be labeled.
It might be easier to say who we are not
than to figure out who we are.
(And aren’t we all connected and so there really is no self?
I mean, every day I pray to God to relieve me of that bondage.)
I cannot snap, wink or whistle.
I am not the mistakes I have made,
even though I would make them all over again
in order to get to right here, right now.
I am not the things I think about all day:
unpaid bills, grocery list, goals not reached,
all the broken shit I cannot fix.
That beautiful man I can’t get enough of.
I told him about Camille Claudel
and my fear of becoming the crazy old lady
in the corner nobody cares about,
scribbling pages that no one will read.
This nightmare is heavier than rational thought —
anxious stones weighing down the pockets of my joy.
But then an army of angels picked me up
a vision of all our lady heroes who kept mattering
And keep mattering —
Anais Nin Joan Didion Grace Paley
Mary Karr Simone deBeauvoir Jeanne Moreau
Yoko Ono Susan Sontag Aung San Suu Kyi
I can’t name them all.
Lucille Ball Phyllis Diller Lily Tomlin Joan Rivers
Lucinda Williams Dolly Parton Judy Chicago
Dorothy Dietrich Coco Chanel Eve Ensler
Holly Hughes Josephine Baker Louise Bourgeois
Jane Goodall Katharine Hepburn Georgia O’Keefe.
Do you think anyone has told Lucia Berlin in heaven —
“Sorry it took 11 years after your death,
but now they’re finally saying
you are one of the best writers in America”?
This identity impasse is not indecision or fear of commitment
— wait, don’t want to lie, maybe it is —
But it’s more about inclusion,
embracing the all and the unknown.
I will keep unfolding until the end,
expanding after death if that’s allowed.
I am a chameleonic sponge.
All senses a go.
There’s so much more to absorb.