My first conception
was in the mind of my mother
long before my cry rang boldly
through the halls of the hospital.
I was the imperfect combination
of chromosomes and second chances:
a second marriage, finally secure.
The first- and only-born.
I was the labored joy of my parents, incarnate.
My first days
were filled with warm hands
and tears falling from the eyes
of the family I would grow to know.
The first salty drops were joy-filled,
but then my mother’s breath was labored
from the sudden sickness that clutched at her heart.
Caught in between mothered and motherless,
I was the solemn what-if to sad and fearful faces.
My first months
were spent out of my mother’s arms,
too weak to hold my small body.
She staggered from hospital bed
to therapy on legs as unskilled as my own.
Most diagnosed women died of heart failure,
but her heart beat on, with love for me,
while I learned comfort and safety from my father;
I was the quiet, mewling hope sleeping on his chest.
My first year
was as unsteady as my first steps,
lurching with the threat of losing her.
But she was strong, and overcame paralysis
to hold me in the arms meant for me;
her life and my life, connected from conception.
I was the first-born,
but since that first cake with its solitary candle,
we celebrate our two lives – mine and my mother’s.
Your body is made of the same elements that lionesses are built from. Three quarters of you is the same kind of water that beats rocks to rubble, wears stones away. Your DNA translates into the same twenty amino acids that wolf genes code for. When you look in the mirror and feel weak, remember, the air you breathe in fuels forest fires capable of destroying everything they touch. On the days you feel ugly, remember: diamonds are only carbon. You are so much more.
I wish people could just say how they feel like ‘hey I really don’t like when you do that to me’ or ‘hey I’m in love with you’ or ‘hi I really miss you and i think about you all the time’ without sounding desperate why can’t everyone be painfully honest and just save people the trouble
You’re a clean sheet of paper,
my round robin.
Like the back-alley friend
we were all warned against,
you enable the rebellion
that once shamed my mother.
It’s not mutiny to us, is it?
You’ve always embraced
the lessons I want to remember,
displaying them proudly
the way my seventh-grade best friend
would tape our projects to her fridge;
you and I celebrate together
all I’ve learned since the first time,
lying on the carpeted floor
in my best friend’s mother’s house,
shirt pulled up and needle poised,
dripping black calligraphy ink
that would soon be thrust deep
beneath several layers of skin.
You’re the whisper that reminds me
of the darkness of that night,
and I sometimes think defiance
was the first word from my lips.
At first, you preached the reminder –
the importance of really living and being alive.
The sudden breathlessness I felt,
the surface tension breaking at needle’s point,
meant I never can forget the ankh,
the little “life” beneath my right breast.
It was three years before I realized,
the only way to remember the hope
I was learning to find in losing control
was to find someone to scar you again;
the only way to heal my heart’s wounds
was the anchor across the ribs that protected it.
For Christmas, just a few months later,
Daddy gave the gift of a permanent word,
which fit perfectly on the inside of my right wrist.
You and I waited longest for the visible “Legacy”
that I hope mirrors the one I’ve been building
since he first spoke the word to my child-heart.
Few hands have touched you and meant something
the way that Jonathan’s small palms have.
Across my left shoulder blade, you speak
the words he and I have said for years,
the words I had to choose to really mean:
“I love you, to infinity and beyond, forever and ever.”
With the mix of ink and blood, you have a voice
to speak the words that need to be repeated.
“The story can resume…” you now say,
a reminder that my past is just that,
made to tell the good and the bad,
its only power that which I choose to give.
My quiet confidante, secret keeper,
over the course of four years and two states,
you’ve held them close to my heart,
and always at your surface,
a reminder of the journey I’m making
from hopeless rebel to joy-seeker.
A selfless martyr,
you repeatedly endure the abuse,
the necessary pain that marks us both.
The way you heal, so eager to accept these words –
they were a part of you all along,
Jake McKillip sat next to me
all too often in the third grade.
Boys still had cooties
and this boy had the worst case I’d ever seen.
He made it his job to annoy me,
pulling my braids in the lunch line,
making those gross, farting sounds in class.
He wanted an “A” in getting on my last nerve,
but couldn’t care less about reading or math,
or the countless worksheets
Mrs. Quinn sent home each day.
My best friend, Hannah, had moved that year
away from the house next door,
the one that her father ruined.
It was the closest glimpse I got
of that horrid animal – divorce.
Stripped of the friendship
I’d held like a security blanket all my life,
I had entered the third grade alone.
No more bus rides like we used to have in kindergarten,
Hannah and me singing “Guess I’ll Go Eat Worms,”
eating PB&J sandwiches
homemade by our bus driver, Dawn.
Instead, I got stuck with Jake McKillip.
This was the year that I learned
that planes can do more than fly.
I was sitting at the kitchen island,
waiting for the bus I’d have to ride alone,
watching Good Morning America
on the small, white television set
perched on the counter,
just below the plates and bowls.
Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer wished me a happy morning
while my mother switched the laundry in the basement.
The camera spanned the New York skyline,
a city I had never seen.
In that single sweep, my world changed.
As Charlie and Diane struggled to come to terms
with what we had seen,
another plane hit the towers –
this couldn’t be an accident.
With the naïveté of a young, Hoosier girl,
who didn’t know the words “World Trade Center” or “terrorism,”
I called to my mother,
repeated what I heard
in terror-filled voices on the screen.
It was the first time I heard my mother swear.
I must have gotten on the bus soon after, somehow,
but the rest of that day -
and that first year without Hannah – was a blur.
They wouldn’t let us out to recess that day,
and I expected the worst from Jake McKillip.
But he didn’t say a word,
and I think that’s how I knew
that whatever had happened in New York
was big enough to change everything.
Neither of us were quite ourselves
when we first met,
and it seemed we’d be
no more than acquaintances
for the year in between
the day we shook hands
and the day we shared hearts.
It felt funny for both of us,
as if we were children,
setting up our own first play date
in the chill of December.
Both slightly ashamed to admit
that we were strangers
in a city that our families called home.
I think we were both surprised
at the ease with which those three hours passed,
at one of the three Starbucks
within ten minutes of my new house.
Your cellist’s fingers wrapped
around a mug of simple green tea.
My poet’s mouth stained
by the rich flavors of dark coffee.
Another day, we met again over tea
and spoke easily about the depth
of the deepest waters within us.
A Bible opened on the small table,
nestled comfortably between the honey
and our wildly gesturing hands.
Strolling to the nearby antique mall,
we spoke of our hopes and shared nostalgia.
I hadn’t had a friend sleep over in years,
and my lungs filled with anxiety
to spend so many hours together,
but the morning came too quickly,
after many tears and smiles, and little sleep.
It had been so long for me,
I forgot how it felt to have a best friend,
the kind to whom you gladly attach your hip.
Even now, separated by so many miles,
you’re the first person on my mind,
the focus of so many of my stories.
Your affirmations touch my heart,
because you know it better than most.
I know my words aren’t wasted on you,
you can see the music in them.
You hear colors
the way that I feel words
And every new thing I learn about you,
is something that I already know.
I often forget how young us is,
because, the truth is,
we’ve somehow known each other
since before even you or I existed.